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Goodbye, Hinckley; hello, nice Democrats

Wilson: Last Friday I walked out the door. I left 18 years of wonder and delight. I am no longer the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

I read a book by John Gardner called "Repotting" many years ago. Gardner said we all need to change our dirt now and then. We are growing organisms. As a flower or a weed, I feel the need to move on. To find new challenges. To lead the examined life. To enjoy family. To do my crazy styles of recreation — motorcycles and mountains.

The Hinckley Institute's fundamental mission is to engage our best youth in politics. Robert H. Hinckley, our founder, put it succinctly: "We either engage politics or we pick up guns."

There has never been a better time to attract our best young people into the public process. It doesn't have to be elective office.

There are plenty of part-time public volunteer needs that go well with families and careers. Opportunities to serve in public jobs abound.

The problem we often face in meeting this challenge among young people is apathy and antipathy. Too many of our kids grow up believing that public concerns are not their business. They inherit a culture of the free rider. Someone else will do it. Moreover, and sadly, we teach too much of the "government is bad" value in our homes. It hurts our young people. They grow up with little trust in community. Frankly, folks, our families have to do a better job in this area or antipathy and apathy will lead to a day when the system breaks down. Enough preaching from me.

There are so many to thank for incredible support the past 18 years: three generations of Hinckleys — Robert H. Hinckley, Robert H. Hinckley Jr. and Jim Hinckley — have been magnificent. They have funded and loved the institute without interference. Three university presidents encouraged and supported the institute and me. J.D. Williams, the founding director, has always been there when needed. Assistant Director Bae Gardner showed me the ropes. Deans Howard Ball, Roger McCoy, Donna Gelfand and Steve Ott were wonderful bosses. Associate Dean Steve Reynolds kept things running from the top. The political science faculty and staff have nurtured us. Dan Jones, of polling fame, has been by my side as a co-professor and deep personal friend. David Buhler, a loyal Republican, gave me balance in teaching practical politics. My staff members Jayne Nelson, Pat Ryan, Tim Chambless and Courtney McBeth are the best. Many terrific student assistants, including the incumbent Mark "Radar" Oblad, have made the job easy. And thanks, too, to the hundreds of students who have come and gone and made us better along the way.

As I "repot" so does the institute. Led by the vision of President Bernie Machen and Dean Steve Ott, the institute, with new interim director Ron Hrebenar, has new purpose. The goal is to blend the institute and the Department of Political Science into exciting graduate work in practical politics and international programs. Master's and doctorate degrees could be offered for campaigning, polling, lobbying and other exciting areas of applied politics. It might be the most exciting college program west of the Mississippi in this emerging academic specialty.

So a final toast: To my students, the institute, and to my magnificent university. I wish you well.

Webb: To help celebrate Ted's retirement, I'm going to write nice things about a couple of Democrats. Well, sort of nice. Actually, the purpose isn't to laud Democrats, but to counsel Republicans about them.

In the last few days I've had occasion to meet separately, on behalf of clients, with Jim Matheson and Scott Matheson Jr. I must say I came away very impressed with both of them.

The dynamics of having two brothers from a prominent political family running major campaigns and appearing on the same ballot makes the 2004 election even more fascinating.

The political capabilities of two-term Congressman Jim Matheson are well known to anyone paying attention. He is smart, attractive, moderate and fairly independent (but when his Democratic Party needs him he'll be there). He knows the issues, works very hard, and is a formidable fund-raiser.

Just as important, Matheson runs smart, disciplined, focused and highly targeted campaigns. He is forced to do so because he's always outnumbered and has to pay attention to every campaign detail to have a shot at winning.

Expect Scott Matheson, in the gubernatorial contest, to run the same kind of race, particularly because Robyn Matheson, Scott's wife, has been the guru behind Jim Matheson's campaigns. (Scott Matheson joked that in family discussions about both of them running, the hardest part for Jim was giving up Robyn.)

In contrast to the Mathesons' highly-disciplined campaigns, most Republicans have generally had the luxury of running lazy campaigns once they get the nomination. That's not universally true, because I thought John Swallow ran a good campaign last year against Jim Matheson and he vows to do even better this time.

But for the Republicans to win the 2nd Congressional District and the governorship, they're going to have to step up their campaigns several notches beyond what they're used to. Business as usual won't do. They will have to have an edge, be disciplined and focused, and be very sophisticated in targeting to get the right messages to the right people.

The big question about Scott Matheson has been whether this serious law professor, generally described as quiet, cerebral and maybe even shy, has the fire in the belly, the charisma, the personality to really connect with people on an emotional level. Sure, the guy is smart, but can he work a crowd?

I may be easily fooled, but my impression is that the Democrats have no concerns on that front. The guy was very good when I met with him — warm, funny and animated, while projecting intelligence and leadership. There's enough of Norma in the Matheson boys to give them plenty of warmth and accessibility.

I still believe Republicans can win both of these races in 2004. But it will take excellent candidates, and Republicans will have to be at the absolute top of their game.


Democrat Ted Wilson, former Salt Lake mayor, is a political consultant. He recently stepped down as director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. E-mail: tednews@hotmail.com. Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: lavarrwebb@msn.com