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Despite summer’s end, there’s controversy heating up

SHARE Despite summer’s end, there’s controversy heating up
Columnists Pignanelli and Webb examine Utah politics.

Columnists Pignanelli and Webb examine Utah politics.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

The dog days of summer have officially ended (for the astronomically challenged, it's when the constellation Sirius rises and sets with the sun — amazing what you learn at Pig-Webb). But pockets of political heat are still generating controversy:

Mainstream Republicans and business leaders are increasingly concerned about the tone of congressional rhetoric on a number of issues. Is a gulf emerging between Utah's federal lawmakers and the state's business leaders and mainstream establishment?

Pignanelli: "All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions." — William Butler Yeats

Most discussions regarding political extremists focus on ultraconservatives, but ultraliberals are just as clueless. The fringe on both sides could care less about anything other than satisfying their ideological litmus tests.

A substantial majority of Utahns is deeply suspicious of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) and nervous about federal oversight of Utah's high quality — but cheaper — medical system. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, represented the will of his constituents by voting against this measure, but the lefties are still beating the drum against him. He was forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in a 2010 primary that should have never happened. Matheson refuses to be beholden to any liberal fringe but does so at the continued peril of intraparty challenges. Tim DeChristopher's trash talking of Matheson is generating internal dissension.

Republican officeholders have no choice but to respond to the ridiculous demands of delegates, therefore warping their best intentions. Most Utahns want federal immigration reform, but a small strident minority (please note I have refrained from accurate descriptions of wing nuts, crazies and loonies) control the debate through the delegate process. Until the delegate dynamic changes, public policy will continue to be twisted by the heat of strange elements.

Webb: Republican members of Congress are tugged in two directions. On one side, archconservative grass-roots activists and tea party sympathizers demand rigid, highly ideological, right-wing positions on a range of issues, including immigration reform and shutting down the government. On the other side, business leaders and mainstream citizens want lawmakers to be conservative problem solvers willing to find common ground to get things done and keep the country going forward.

The vast majority of Utahns support mainstream positions. But members of Congress tend to be more concerned about the limited number of state delegates who control their political destinies. Because delegates are generally more conservative than voters in general, public policy is skewed to the right.

We need to reform the caucus/convention system so that members of Congress better reflect the views of all Utahns, not just a narrow special-interest constituency.

The Utah Transit Authority is again making news regarding alleged inappropriate employee behavior, travel, compensation and benefits for employees and officers. Is this a matter of major concern?

Pignanelli: The UTA needs public relations professionals who raised teenagers. The current admonition to adolescents: "Yes, I know you're a smart intelligent hard-working person, but a huge gauge earring and tattoo are bad optics and send the wrong message regardless of your outstanding qualities" is easily metamorphosed to: "Yes, I know you're an award-winning high-quality transportation system, but travels to Switzerland and astronomically high wages and benefits to officers are bad optics and send the wrong message regardless of your outstanding qualities."

Webb: I help with the Utah Transportation Coalition, organized by the Salt Lake Chamber to help keep Utah's economy strong by smart investment in transportation infrastructure. Looking at the big picture, it's clear that both UTA and the Utah Department of Transportation, despite some bumps in the road, have performed incredibly well in maintaining the state's mobility and keeping commerce flowing.

Back in 2006, voters, city and county officials, and business leaders launched UTA into fast-growth mode, charging the agency with building 70 miles of rail in relatively few years. The dramatic expansion was accomplished two years early and $300 million under budget, despite a devastating recession. The system restructuring disrupted many bus routes, but now we have a transit backbone that will serve the Wasatch Front for decades to come. Mistakes have been made, but accomplishing this feat required visionary, aggressive and courageous leadership. Without that type of leadership, the metropolitan area would still have just a bus system. With most major capital projects completed, it's now time for UTA to focus on convenience and frequency for all transit riders.

The results of Utah's municipal primary election are in. Any surprises or trends?

Pignanelli: Politicos are analyzing the Murray results as a possible indicator of future trends across the state. More than 65 percent of votes cast were by mail or in early voting, and the results surprised political veterans. This dynamic underscores that successful campaigns must keep the personal aspects of retail politics, but change the focus (i.e. less broad-based, door-to-door walking, greater use of strategic get out the vote, social media, etc.)

Webb: Congrats to the winners! The best candidates won. I love local government because that's where the real work of government gets done, mostly without the ideological conflict and political posturing that occurs at higher levels. We need to move more government responsibilities to the local level.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. 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 a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.