Mandates and money highlighted Utah political races, with Gov. Mike Leavitt and Rep. Jim Hansen redefining "landslide" while close losers Bill Orton and Scott Burns charged opponents with spending exorbitant amounts to gain office.
And in spite of it all, re-elected Attorney General Jan Graham said she just wants to go to Disneyland.Election '96 came to a predictable close yesterday, with the major races and propositions going as expected except for Chris Cannon's mild upset of Orton, a race that tightened into a dead heat the last week of the campaign. Any spending issues aside, Orton can thank President Clinton for tipping the scales in Cannon's favor through backlash resulting from creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Orton complained he was heavily outspent and charged that his record was distorted in the highly energized showdown. His seat had been targeted by the national GOP as one for the taking, and the anti-Washington sentiment was the straw that broke his campaign's back, with deep-pocketed state and national Republicans going after him.
Leavitt's landslide was a foregone conclusion. His 75 percent of the vote has never been approached by a gubernatorial victor, with Democrat Cal Rampton's 69 percent in 1972 the closest anyone has come to it. Understandably, Jim Bradley raised the white flag and conceded after exit-poll results were released and before an actual ballot was counted, but the writing was on the statehouse wall before he even entered the campaign.
To his and Leavitt's credit and Christmas lights aside, they conducted a dignified campaign that focused on issues and made time for many debates to the benefit of the electorate. The massive margin of victory gives Leavitt and the state Republicans tremendous momentum heading into the 1997 legislative session, with issues of planning and transportation looming large on the agenda.
Though early in the evening Burns made the attorney general's race interesting, he ended up losing by 7 percentage points after trailing by more than 20 points in the polls a week ago. He closed the gap Tuesday, benefiting from his GOP/Mike Leavitt affiliation. He also made an issue of money, charging that Graham spent upwards of $1 million, more than double what he was able to spend in spite of Republican support.
Money and malice also came to the fore in the 2nd Congressional race, where vanquished Ross Anderson accused big-spending Merrill Cook of a "very dishonest" portrayal of Anderson's positions on the issues. Anderson was hurt by charges of supporting same-sex marriages and his affiliation with the ACLU as legal counsel. Despite early promises of a clean campaign, the Cook-Anderson bout ended a bloody slugfest. But the seventh political attempt was the charm for Cook, who takes his tax-reduction act to Washington after his first win.
In the 1st District, Jim Hansen had his way with Greg Sanders, who said he would likely be back in two years for another round. Sanders refusal to accept PAC money made him virtually invisible to voters and made his defeat a mere formality. Hansen, meanwhile, returns to Washington for his ninth term, though he noted that if Republicans had lost control of the House this might have been his last stint.
In Utah legislative races, Republicans maintained their hold and came away with an identical 55 seats, though several changed hands, compared with 20 for the Democrats. The GOP gained one seat in the Senate, with a 20-9 dominance going into the next session. The two-thirds majority in both houses strips the Demos of veto power and gives them no say in any proposed state constitutional amendments.
Six statewide ballot propositions ranging on issues from property tax relief for veterans to state backing of local school-district bonds passed overwhelmingly as expected. The same was true of Salt Lake County Proposal No. 1, designating a 1/10 of one cent tax increase to support recreation and the arts. That the county proposal passed was not too surprising given a well-organized promotional effort that started late enough to not allow opponents to effectively mobilize. Its 16 percent margin of victory was, however, a surprise given the electorate's mood concerning any kind of tax increases.
Also in Salt Lake County, Brent Overson's County Commission re-election was no surprise. He had token opposition from Democrat Paulina Flint, who with third-party candidates never made an issue of Overson's feud with County Attorney Doug Short or other potentially controversial commission doings.
State and local races reinforced what everyone already knew about Beehive State politics: Utah is a pretty, great state - if you're a Republican.