Pignanelli & Webb: At year’s end, strange people like us who obsess over politics like to compile lists of top local and national events, people, trends and societal changes of the past year, and then we babble about what it means. Our highlights (or lowlights) of 2017:
The year of Trump. The wild and unprecedented 2017 political year was clearly dominated by rookie President Donald Trump as he blustered, bulldozed, tweeted and scandalized his way to consume all the political oxygen in 2017. He charged in where politicians fear to tread, slashing regulations, losing and winning legislative fights, upending foreign affairs, offending nearly everyone, and driving liberals, moderates and traditional conservatives absolutely nuts. But the economy boomed. And Trump is just getting started.
Government by tweet. U.S. presidents have always communicated in disciplined and thoughtful ways, using carefully crafted speeches, press conferences and TV and radio appearances. The leader of the free world now reaches millions of people worldwide, often in the wee hours of the night, by posting stream-of-consciousness, unvetted, tweets. Crucial foreign and domestic policy is driven by 140- (now 280-) character messages. Love or loathe Trump, he has revolutionized presidential and political communications, and the impact on national and local politics will be permanent.
Year of #MeToo. Sexual harassment is suddenly no longer hidden or tolerated. Seldom has a societal upheaval occurred so quickly. Dozens of men in politics, entertainment, sports and business have lost their jobs and reputations. This matter is no respecter of income level, race, religion, sexual orientation or political persuasion. Male/female interactions will forever change — for the better.
High-powered homeless focus. Homelessness and associated problems were long considered local issues, but state government in 2017 stepped up in a big way when city and county governments were floundering. Collaboration with “big brother” has resulted in excellent progress, but the state/local relationship may now be altered, with the state less reluctant to jump into local controversies.
The frozen field. Regardless of whether Sen. Orrin Hatch seeks re-election in 2018, he engineered in 2017 perhaps the biggest political freeze-out ever in Utah politics. He effectively cleared the decks for himself or possibly Mitt Romney, which altered the plans and predicted trajectories of a number of politicians for years to come.
The rise of Hughes. 2017 saw the emergence of House Speaker Greg Hughes as a congressional or statewide contender. Long viewed as a charming, very conservative, but sometimes overly aggressive lawmaker who was effective at the Capitol, he also gained wide attention for his early and undying support of Trump. Then Utahns saw a new side of Hughes as he focused his drive and intensity on the criminal element among the homeless population in Salt Lake City. His 2017 success in the urban liberal bastion makes him a player for higher office in 2020.
The young guns emerge. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox maintained his reputation as a likable, compassionate politician with ambitions to become governor. In the age of Trump, Cox's demeanor is warmly appreciated by many, although his toughness and willingness to take risks have yet to be tested. Meanwhile, another up-and-comer, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, announced his candidacy for Congress in the 4th District. He faces Rep. Mia Love.
Huntsman back on national stage. After losing the 2012 GOP presidential primary, and then engaging with bipartisan organizations, many thought Jon Huntsman Jr. was entering the twilight of his political career. But his appointment as U.S. ambassador to Russia puts him, and Utah, back in the national spotlight. Huntsman is now a future player in national politics or the U.S. Senate.
Big battles in the eternal war over public lands. Thanks to Trump, state and local Utah politicians won a big battle as two massive national monuments in Utah were scaled back. But lawsuits will continue, and permanent congressional public lands fixes will be elusive. The issue will remain a political litmus test in Utah and other Western states.
Chaffetz out; Curtis in — thanks to Count My Vote. In a surprise move, Congressman Jason Chaffetz resigned and was wooed by Fox News as a commentator. But Chaffetz could be a future gubernatorial contender. Provo Mayor John Curtis replaced him, blazing a new trail to victory by gathering enough signatures to get on the primary ballot despite losing the convention delegate vote. He easily won the primary election and swept away a well-funded Democrat and a third-party moderate in November. His victory confirms that political party delegates no longer control the process.
Year of churn and angst — with not much resolved. As of this writing, Congress was poised to pass tax reform. But tumultuous 2017 mostly set the stage for a big 2018 political year. The Alabama election, sexual harassment, an erratic president, an economic boom and general disillusionment with politics leaves everything up in the air for the coming year.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: [email protected] 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 protected]