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Elections, Urquhart, Legacy provide food for thought

Three political events last week deserve some commentary.

Municipal elections

Pignanelli: The race in Salt Lake City for Council District 3 (Avenues/Capital Hill) was Rocky II — a minisequel to the Mayor Rocky Anderson's first two campaigns. Anderson invested tremendous personal capital in Janneke House, the candidate he recruited to challenge his nemesis, incumbent Eric Jergensen. Rocky repeatedly attacked Jergensen for not supporting his specific programs. Thus, this council election became a referendum on the mayor in an area of the city where he is well-liked. Although defeated by Jergensen, House is credited for running a spirited effort. Conversely, the mayor's inability to convert his popularity into a victory for House demonstrates his support is derived from outspoken activities, but he does not possess a legacy of quantifiable accomplishments easily identified by the electorate. Four years ago, Jergensen's victory was considered a fluke by some politicos (because he is an LDS moderate Republican). Thus, Jergensen's re-election is a vindication of his achievements in office.

Soren Simonsen's election to District 7 was preordained. Simonsen has the perfect profile for a politician in Salt Lake City: historic architect, participant in progressive urban developments, active in environmental causes and a natty dresser. Jill Remington-Love's unopposed election in District 5 cannot be ignored. In prior elections, this Council seat fostered bloody battles between liberal and moderate Democrats. Remington-Love is maybe the city's best politician for securing support from all factions and bringing peace to this neighborhood.

On a personal note, I wish to extend gratitude to Holladay residents for electing my mother, Patricia Murphy Pignanelli, to their City Council. They selected an energetic woman who will serve them well. Further, they saved me from years of therapy needed to deflect all the guilty emotion — imposed by family members and me — if the results had been different.

Webb: No overarching theme seemed apparent in the Utah municipal election. Voters weren't in a "throw-the-incumbents-out" sort of mood, as some incumbents won, and others lost. A number of big-box stores and development issues had voters riled up, but there wasn't a consistent pro-development or anti-development theme. Voters, for the most part, seemed pretty happy with the direction of their cities. So the individual races really hinged on local issues and the quality of candidates.

One interesting development is the sophistication and expense of some of the municipal races. If you want to become mayor of one of Utah's large to medium-size cities, you had better plan to raise a lot of money and use the latest campaign techniques and tools.

A number of campaigns used sophisticated targeting to reach likely voters in a low-turnout election. Recorded automated voice messages were fairly common. A number of campaigns produced e-mail newsletters, and e-mail blasts with recorded audio pitches. Big get-out-the-vote efforts were mounted on Election Day.

Being a former stake president and having an old-time family name just doesn't cut it any more in a lot of Utah cities.

On the national level, Democrats won big last Tuesday. Since we're now in the 2006 cycle, we Republicans ought to immediately begin spinning the 2006 congressional races: Given the sad and sorry state of the Republican Party on numerous fronts, if the Democrats don't have an enormous victory in 2006 and win control of both the House and Senate, then the Democratic Party really is a puny and feeble political force.

Hatch vs. Urquhart

Pignanelli: "The owners of two NBA teams were involved in this intraparty struggle. Larry Miller of the Jazz donated $2,000 to Orrin Hatch and Steve Urquhart received $1,000 from the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban." Such was the simple but compelling observation of a veteran analyst regarding Urquhart's withdrawal from the Senate race. Hatch easily fostered monetary donations and endorsements from important Utahns. Although well-liked by high-tech activists and entrepreneurs across the country (i.e. Cuban), Urquhart could not transform this affection into deep support among local GOP.

Webb: I predict we haven't seen the last of Steve Urquhart. His foray into big-time congressional politics hasn't damaged him long-term. He can readily recover and will continue to be a force in the Legislature. He gave Hatch a needed wake-up call, learned a few lessons, and will emerge a better political leader for the experience.

The Legacy settlement

Pignanelli: Utah Democrats are perceived as the Greg Ostertag of the state Legislature. Usually, the Jazz player suffers criticism for not contributing to activity on the court; but an occasional game is won because he blocks a shot. Republican support for the litigation resolution was weak, and legislative Democrats had the rare opportunity to control events of the special session. Continually excluded from the process, the minority caucus could have justified defeating the settlement. Instead, the rational use of their atypical power is evidence that including Democrats in future policy considerations will benefit all Utahns.

Webb: The Legacy Parkway vote was an example of purely pragmatic, matter-of-fact politics winning over idealism and ideology. It was a classic compromise, with both sides giving some ground. We get the highway, we get it on the preferred alignment, and we avoid potentially years of further delay and a hundred million dollars or so of increased costs. The most unfortunate provision of the compromise is the ban on large trucks, which I don't think makes any sense environmentally or any other way. But dropping the truck ban was an absolute deal-killer for the environmentalists.

Two northern Utah lawmakers, Sheldon Killpack and Stuart Adams, deserve a lot of credit for bringing the Legislature around and serving their constituents (like me) who commute daily into the big city.

There is now talk in some conservative circles of retribution, of somehow punishing environmentalists for forcing the compromise. I have no sympathy for the Sierra Club or other radical environmental groups. But let's not do something that will end up hurting Utah commuters.


Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. One of his clients includes the national engineering firm, HNTB Corp., which may work on the Legacy Parkway. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A former candidate for Salt Lake mayor, Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. Pignanelli's spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is executive director of the state Department of Administrative Services in the Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. administration. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.