Silas Walker, Deseret News
Derek Brown speaks during the Utah GOP convention at the Utah Valley University campus UCCU Center in Orem on Saturday, May 4.

Your columnists detect a political bent in most everything, which sometimes yields a jaded perspective. But even old cynics like us can sometimes recognize jewels staring us in the face. At the risk of sounding like weepy Pollyannas, we consider three unrelated items and why they are positive for Utah.

Our state just concluded an international celebration of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad. We all know this was important in 1869, but why does it still resonate?

Pignanelli: "It's hard to make government change. It's like building the transcontinental railroad.” — Tim O'Reilly

The history — before and after — of joining our country by rail is an amazing tale of vision, grit, greed, cruelty, entrepreneurism, hedonism and most recently, guilt. Of course, this great story includes the involvement of our hard-working Utah ancestors.

Always proud of my business partner Doug Foxley, my respect for him expanded exponentially. His leadership as chairman of the Transcontinental Railroad 150th Celebration Commission, along with co-chairman Spencer Stokes and commission President Aimee McConkie (also of our office) demands appreciation from all. They raised $9 million to educate schoolchildren, and remind adults, of this incredible legacy. Furthermore, they ensured Chinese and the Irish immigrants received long overdue recognition for their incredible labor.

“Driving the spike” forever changed Utah. In the decades following the 1969 Centennial celebration, Utah diversified its economy, obtained an NBA team and hosted the Olympics. In 2019, our state is now on the cusp of becoming a major global center for technology, financial services, health care and other important endeavors. Equally important, Utah is diversifying demographically while the culture is increasingly inclusive and accepting.

“Spike 150” advertised to the world — once again — Utah is cool.

Webb: I am heartened by the outpouring of interest and support for one of the great symbols of America’s industrial might and can-do attitude. In an era when past big achievements are often cast negatively in the context of political correctness and social justice, it’s great to recognize the importance of this remarkable event without ignoring or whitewashing the negatives.

Doug Foxley and his team produced the biggest, best, most transparent and inclusive golden spike celebration ever. This celebration was more sensitive to real history, more welcoming to all stakeholders, than ever before. But it was also about dreaming big dreams, triumphing over all obstacles, and attaining great heights of achievement.

I think it’s terrific that so many Utahns and people across the nation and world recognize the importance of this amazing event in our history.

The Utah Republican Party conducted its convention on May 3. Derek Brown was elected chairman and the leadership of the party, including the State Central Committee, is decidedly more mainstream. Why are most politicos cheering?

Pignanelli: Utahns have a well-deserved reputation for frugality and practical solutions. The incessant demand by GOP activists to pursue wasteful litigation was a deviation from this important hallmark. (Although, I enjoyed mocking the "Gang of 51"). The Republicans that elected Brown and dramatically changed the Central Committee deserve statewide gratitude for saving all citizens from further embarrassing nonsense.

Webb: Congratulations to Brown and other new leaders. This really is an opportunity to re-energize the Republican Party and leave the infighting behind. Most Utah Republicans are mainstream folks who take practical positions and want their political party and their government to solve problems, not be consumed by ideology.

Brown must work hard to regain the trust of mainstream Republicans and traditional party donors who stopped contributing to the party. They are still a bit wary.

The long-term question is whether these improvements can be sustained and institutionalized. Diligence and tenacity will be required. SB54 and the signature-gathering route to the primary election must be protected. If the fringes of the party regain control, mainstream Republicans will once again leave, this time for good.

Legislative leaders have appointed members of the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force, with meetings to commence soon. Democratic lawmakers have been conducting town hall meetings throughout the state to review current and potential tax policies. Why does this matter?

2 comments on this story

Pignanelli: These recent developments reflect the common sense of Utahns. The governor and the Legislature are pushing to correct a budgetary problem before it occurs — demonstrating good management. Despite the bump in the session, these officials are now soliciting advice from taxpayers as to how to accomplish this goal. Democratic leaders are stepping outside their comfort zone and learning about tax policy. The net result will be changes that attract some opposition (reform always does) but have been vetted by thousands.

Webb: The people appointed to the task force face an interesting and challenging summer. But broadening the sales tax base and reforming the tax system to reflect the changing economy is absolutely a goal worth pursuing.

It may take longer than expected and require a lot of small steps, but lawmakers and the Herbert administration are on the right path. And there’s a bonus: Utahns are likely to get an overall tax cut as the process moves forward.