Last Tuesday’s elections, along with an unexpected announcement by Count My Vote, brought another round of interesting political developments. We offer our thoughts.
Count My Vote (CMV) leaders have decided their ballot measure will continue the SB54 dual track compromise for a candidate to get on the primary ballot. Candidates will be able to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot, and/or go through the caucus/convention system. The measure will also institute a runoff system and reduce signature-gathering requirements. Why go to the trouble and expense of an initiative campaign for only incremental changes?
Pignanelli: "We have drained common sense out of our politics.” — Deval Patrick
To utilize the adage regarding the futility of digging holes, Utahns on both sides of this controversy are expending resources excavating huge cavities — and they need to climb out. Republican activists continue to impoverish the party in opposing the legislative compromise. Upset at legislative actions, CMV is devoting millions for another ballot initiative.
Lawmakers expressing grumpiness with the signature process will continue for years. But they have not eliminated it, understanding a "deal is a deal." CMV can honor this arrangement by dropping any attempts to alter the current system by initiative. Primary election results in 2016 and 2018 demonstrate most Republicans accept the compromise. I respectfully suggest they focus on educating the public and lawmakers as to the tweaks that need to be made.
Jumping out of this hole is not hard.
Webb: It’s very important for CMV to advance the initiative so that voters can strongly affirm, once and for all, that they want to preserve the dual track candidate selection process, providing a meaningful role for all voters, rather than relinquish that power to party delegates.
In addition, SB54 needs some important updates to allow a runoff in a multi-candidate primary when no candidate gets more than 35 percent of the vote. The number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot also needs revision. If these flaws aren’t resolved, the process will always be susceptible to attacks and attempts to rescind.
Finally, Count My Vote has always been about choice and inclusion. Political parties should have a meaningful role and candidates should have maximum choice. By preserving the caucus/convention system along with the signature route to the ballot, it is hoped that reasonable party stalwarts will come together with mainstream Republicans and embrace this fair compromise.
A strong vote by the people, along with resolution of minor flaws, will permanently institutionalize the dual track to the primary ballot and make it impervious to attacks. Political parties will benefit, and every vote will count. What’s not to like?
Are there any lessons or trends that should be surmised from John Curtis’ win in the congressional special election, and the municipal contests last Tuesday?
Pignanelli: Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, a six-term veteran, outspent his opponent $400,000 to $55,000. But Kurt Bradburn’s 10-point victory over Dolan sends loud signals that sophisticated campaigns are not enough. Although surrounded by 21st-century technology, voters still demand a personal touch and outreach by candidates — which Bradburn so effectively provided.
The election of Amy Fowler and Chris Wharton to the Salt Lake City Council firmly establishes progressive control of the capital city. These freshmen council members are well-regarded lawyers, thereby guaranteeing lively council sessions.
Almost 10 percent of 3rd Congressional District voters supported Jim Bennett and his third-party Utah United. This is a fairly large slice of the electorate using the ballot to protest the establishment.
Webb: A mainstream, moderate, nice-guy Republican easily wins in one of the most conservative congressional districts in the country. Utah is simply not fertile ground for the Bannon wing of the Republican Party. It’s important to remember that Curtis wouldn’t even have been on the ballot without the Count My Vote effort.
A lesson of the municipal election is that voters don’t really care much about political clout and power. Sandy Mayor Dolan was sort of the Orrin Hatch of Utah mayors. He was very powerful and got things done. But he tried for one term too many. There’s a lesson there for Hatch.
Much national focus was on the Virginia statewide elections. Do those results have any impact on Utah politics?
Pignanelli: While dangerous to nationalize results from a “purple” state election, there are some valid conclusions. Trumpisms on immigration, Confederate statues, political correctness, etc., are so unique to the president’s independent persona they did not succeed in Virginia and will not be useful in other places — especially Utah. The 3rd Congressional District outcome offers guidance to Republicans across the country. Throughout the entire convention/primary/general election process, John Curtis brilliantly managed to align himself with certain Trumpian principles while distancing himself from more controversial issues. Perhaps this freshman congressman could hold a seminar to teach the veterans how to campaign next year.
Webb: Democrats were expected to win the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, so they’re not necessarily predictive for 2018, despite Democratic euphoria.
It’s true that congressional Republicans in swing states are going to have difficulty navigating Trumpism, both the person and some of his agenda. But Democrats are going to have difficulty navigating the Sanders/Clinton divide.
Here’s what will ensure continued Republican control of Congress in 2018: Get stuff done. Pass tax reform. Cut taxes. Make sense of federal health care policy. Fix the broken immigration system.
A great economy will float Republican boats. Pass pro-growth tax reform and we’ll see the economy boom.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: email@example.com.