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Op-ed: Thoughts on Chaffetz, the new political party, and the new GOP chair

Rob Anderson, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, is interviewed at the GOP office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
Rob Anderson, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, is interviewed at the GOP office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

We interrupt your summer vacation planning with thoughts on three current political topics.

The special election to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz has attracted 22 candidates. Why do so many otherwise smart people want to work in gridlocked, dysfunctional Washington where little gets accomplished?

Pignanelli: "I don't mind what Congress does, as long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses.” — Victor Hugo

God bless the hardy souls who participate in American Democracy’s three worst jobs: school district board, city council and the U.S House of Representatives. The pay is better in the latter, but officeholders of the first two don't have to wait years to accomplish something.

Fresh candidates for Congress are always full of hopes and dreams to change the world. But those who are elected soon have to fight against having their souls crushed by an entrenched federal bureaucracy, oppressive special-interest groups and hyperpartisanship.

But Congress has always fostered nastiness and intrigue. In 1856, Sen. Charles Sumner (R-MA) almost died from a caning delivered by Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) on the Senate floor. In the 1890s, Democrats frequently refused to answer roll calls, denying a quorum for House deliberations.

Amazingly, our republic survived and continues to flourish.

While questioning their judgment, candidates seeking office in any election deserve respect, especially those contending for Congress. Despite the mess, they comprehend good governance is bigger than them. Thus, I will always be optimistic about our country and state.

But it's still fun — and a fundamental element of our democracy — to doubt their sanity.

Webb: Serving in Congress is a lousy job. But leadership really does matter, so we need to elect a wise, capable person to represent the 3rd District. The country has plenty of problems to solve.

Among the numerous candidates, a half dozen or so are legitimate contenders. On the Republican side, only one candidate will emerge from the convention to appear on the primary election ballot. But other candidates will gather signatures to get on the ballot, so primary voters should be assured a choice in the nomination process. That’s a good outcome of SB54.

Does the new United Utah Party have a chance to impact politics in Utah?

Pignanelli: Normally, we should all have a good laugh and completely dismiss any silly attempts at a state-based third-party. But these are not normal times.

Our nation is undergoing a major transformational political shift. Absolutely no one knows how this is going to end. The result could be a readjustment of Republican and Democrat supporters, or the obliteration of a major party and the beginning of a new one, or a multiparty scenario unprecedented in our history.

Furthermore, the internet offers opportunities for nascent political movements to grow at little cost. So United Utah may falter, but it could be a harbinger of the future.

Webb: On paper, the new party has a shot. Many Utah voters are independent, and plenty of people are disgusted with both political parties. Many mainstream Republicans feel the Utah party is pushing them out of the tent as some party leaders advocate purity tests and fight to continue delegate control of the nomination process.

On the Democratic side, many moderates say the party has left them behind and in some respects has even become an anti-Mormon party pursuing a Bernie Sanders socialism agenda. Some mainstream Democrats are looking for a new home.

Some 600,000 Utahns are registered as Republicans, and about 175,000 as Democrats (fewer Democrats bother to register because the party doesn’t require party registration to vote in primary elections). That leaves about 600,000 people who vote, but don’t formally affiliate with either party. That’s a sizeable chunk of the electorate to draw from.

However, on Election Day, I expect the vast majority of voters will fall back on old habits and vote for a Republican or Democrat. That’s the reality.

Will new GOP Chair Rob Anderson find a compromise that satisfies hardcore defenders of the caucus/convention system and also supporters of SB54/Count My Vote?

Pignanelli: The Utah GOP has a problem: There are too many honorable Republican lawmakers who believe in keeping their word. They believe junking the signature petition drive would be a violation of the legislative compromise with CMV. So nibbling around the edges will continue, until a new generation of legislators — who did not participate in the deal — is elected.

Webb: The new GOP chair is in a tough spot. I believe he’s a good person who wants to do the right thing. But he won’t be able to retire the party’s debt if he continues policies that alienate mainstream Republicans.

SB54 was a compromise that preserved the caucus/convention system while providing an alternative route to the ballot for mainstream candidates. No appetite exists to weaken that compromise in any way that positions party delegates as gatekeepers of the candidate selection process.

Overwhelming majorities of Utah voters support SB54. They will be outraged if politicians revert to an antiquated system concentrating political power in party delegates.

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 the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: frankp@xmission.com.