As summer ends, a potpourri of political questions are rattling around in our heads:
House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart is applying to run Utah’s public education system. What are her chances, and should a noneducator be appointed to Utah’s highest public-education job?
Pignanelli: "A politician is a person with whose politics you don't agree; if you agree with him he's a statesman." — David Lloyd George
Wimpiness is strangling the federal government. Federal court candidates and executive branch nominees must have a history of carefully avoiding controversy and strong opinions. Otherwise, Congress and special-interest groups may oppose their appointments. I fear my beloved state is slipping into this morass. Apparently, a local university cannot honor a liberal Democrat alumnus (see Harry Reid question below) and a conservative Republican politician should not lead the public school system. This is an abhorrent situation.
Sturdy individuals who bravely challenged the established religious and political establishments founded our state. We need regular infusions of this moxie in government. Implementing a practical 21st-century vision for Utah's public schools requires a revolution inside the bureaucracy and support from the citizenry. These are impossible demands for most persons.
Lockhart deftly led the Legislature through unique challenges while managing an extraordinary large caucus of lawmakers. (A former legislative leader, I understand the pain of shepherding such bobcats.) Lockhart’s listening and public-relations skills need improvement. But her fearlessness, substance and political acumen offer inimitable potential to transform public education.
Webb: It is elitist, illogical and illustrative of what’s wrong with public education to say that no one but a trained education administrator can run Utah’s multibillion-dollar school system. While every other industry in the world has changed dramatically in the last few decades, public education operates essentially the same way it did in the 1800s. So what’s wrong with a top executive who might take a fresh look at the government school system that spends more than half of Utah’s tax dollars?
In the business world, top executives move from industry to industry. Top executives and former politicians also become presidents of universities. So why can’t an outsider with proven skills run Utah’s education system?
I don’t know if Lockhart is the right person for the job. But her application ought not to be rejected based on some silly notion that only someone from the education establishment can lead Utah’s schools.
Utah’s schools need more money and schoolteachers need higher salaries. But policymakers won’t raise taxes and won’t lift Utah from the bottom in per-pupil expenditures until they see more innovation and reform. The next superintendent, no matter who it is, won’t be able to work instant miracles. But he or she must bring fresh perspectives, bold leadership and real innovation to win support for substantially more money.
Nevada has gambling. Colorado has marijuana. Idaho and Wyoming have lotteries. These “vices” are raising money for those states. Will legal vice ever come to Utah?
Pignanelli: Although a longtime practitioner of wagering (in and outside the state), I support Utahns’ refusal to legalize gambling. Nevada was created to assume the problems associated with this fun vice. But expect legislation that allows strictly controlled marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Webb: Each state needs a competitive advantage. With more and more states legalizing gambling, lotteries and marijuana, being the last squeaky-clean state in the nation might not be a bad niche. “Come to Utah — where wholesomeness abounds.”
Seriously, Utah’s economy is highly diversified, and we don’t need to generate revenue using gimmicky schemes that exploit vulnerable people. Let’s develop more energy, not more marijuana.
After receiving protests from local citizens, Southern Utah University removed the name of its most famous alumnus — U. S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — from the campus Outdoor Engagement Center. Was this an appropriate response by the university?
Pignanelli: For heaven's sakes! I travel through the Ronald Reagan Airport, attend meetings at the Wallace Bennett Federal Building, conduct business in the Heber M. Wells complex, cruise on the Norman Bangerter Highway and enjoy artwork when visiting the Marcia & John Price Museum at the University of Utah. Regardless of political differences with these Republicans, I treasure their public service. They are fellow Americans who deserve recognition.
Harry Reid has many faults, including a strong partisan streak and little vision in governance. But he is an intelligent, hardworking, devout Mormon who rose to the top of the political heap. Utahns can despise his politics but should be proud our Southern Utah University gave him such a fine education. Honoring the controversial senator on the campus ought to be a noncontroversial event.
Webb: As a mainstream Republican, I’m no fan of Reid’s politics or ideology. But I’m embarrassed over the petty and mean-spirited behavior of those who threatened to withhold funding or decline to send their students to SUU. Reid is, after all, the U.S. Senate majority leader, and he deserves respect. SUU ought to be proud to name a building after him.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. Email:email@example.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 House minority leader. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.