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Pignanelli & Webb: The issues with legislative leadership, UTA appointments & 4th District

Cars travel toward the state Capitol in Salt Lake City as smoke from wildfires obscures the view of the Wasatch Mountains on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.
Cars travel toward the state Capitol in Salt Lake City as smoke from wildfires obscures the view of the Wasatch Mountains on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

As the dog days of a hot and smoky summer roll on, we speculate about three political issues that will be resolved mostly in the cooler (fortunately) days of autumn.

Immediately after the November election, Utah House and Senate members will select new leaders. It will be a transformational time for the Legislature, because the current House speaker and the Senate president are both retiring. These leadership campaigns are subtle, with only the occasional mention in the media. What are political observers hearing?

Pignanelli & Webb: “Politics could be a positive thing. My beef is people focus on the personal aspect of a politician too much. They should focus on the results.” — LL Cool J

The almost unprecedented departure of a sitting Senate president and House speaker creates real movement within legislative leadership ranks.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, from Layton, has announced his candidacy for president, while Provo Sen. Curt Bramble is considering a run. Sen. Ralph Okerlund resigned as majority leader late in the last session for health reasons and was replaced by Evan Vickers — who will run again for this position. (Okerlund is on the mend and will remain a significant player.)

Dan Hemmert has announced for majority whip and may face opposition from Deidre Henderson and Wayne Harper. Todd Weiler will likely pursue assistant whip. Others in leadership discussions include Ann Millner, David Buxton, Dan Thatcher and Don Ipson. Everyone hopes well-respected Jerry Stevenson remains as appropriations chair.

In the House, Majority Leader Brad Wilson is expected to move up to speaker, while his whip, Francis Gibson, will transition to majority leader. A contest is brewing for majority whip between current Assistant Whip John Knotwell and Appropriations Vice Chairman Mike Schultz. Others contemplating possible leadership bids include Mike McKell, Val Peterson, Kim Coleman, Brad Daw, Tim Hawkes, Steve Handy, Steve Eliason, Lowry Snow and Lee Perry.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis and House Minority Leader Brian King are expected to be re-elected. However, the Democrats could offer a fun tussle for other positions.

Leadership races are very fluid, with names to be added and dropped until the November caucus elections. But it is noteworthy that northern Utah will have a substantial stake in these positions.

Within weeks, Gov. Gary Herbert will appoint three board members to run the Utah Transit Authority, ushering in a fresh start for the agency. The appointment process has not been without controversy. Will the new leadership succeed in re-establishing confidence in the UTA among state officials and the public?

Pignanelli: Most riders (including this infrequent one) enjoy positive experiences with Trax and FrontRunner. So there is a strange disconnect between the PR struggles on management (i.e. compensation, debt, overreach, etc.) and the positive daily encounters of those using the system. Emotions run deep and this may be the last chance for the UTA as a quasi-governmental independent agency. If the board cannot satisfy the concerns of state officials, the media and various community organizations, UDOT will be required to assume supervision of operations. (It will be asked nicely, though.)

Webb: Herbert deserves credit for taking these appointments very seriously and demanding management and leadership excellence among the nominees. Top-notch leadership is crucial, not just to restore trust in the agency, but also to deal with the massive disruption that is occurring in the transportation industry.

In the coming era of autonomous vehicles, Uber, e-bikes, electric scooters and even drone taxis, UTA must reinvent itself or become irrelevant like the taxi industry. Our highways face gridlock unless UTA can efficiently move massive numbers of people. Cost, convenience and rampant collaboration will be more important than ever. Transformative leadership is required.

Some inconsequential skirmishing and sniping have occurred in the 4th Congressional District race between Rep. Mia Love and her Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. Is this contest going to heat up?

Pignanelli: Both sides are accumulating monetary resources, volunteers and endorsements to hurl at each other after Labor Day. Because the 4th District does not have an independent media market, all Utahns will have a taste of the warfare through television, social media and radio. The heat wave continues.

Webb: This race is fascinating because of the national implications. Both candidates are distancing themselves from their national leaders. If McAdams wins, this could be the race that delivers the U.S. House to the Democrats. That’s a somber thought. McAdams professes independence from the Democratic establishment and says he won’t vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker. But he will certainly vote for a Democratic speaker.

Love has her own problems, with an erratic president who isn’t particularly popular in her district. Many moderate Republicans, especially women, are utterly revolted by Trump. On the other hand, the hardcore GOP base, whose votes Love desperately needs, loves Trump and won’t tolerate disloyalty.

Perhaps these factors will offset each other and the race will come down to competence and likability. But probably not.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: 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: