Utah’s remarkable economy, civil political discourse and healthy lifestyle are increasingly noted by national and local media. Often, references are made to the “Utah Way” as the secret sauce for the state’s success. Your columnists, native Utahns with very different backgrounds, offer their perspectives.
What is the “Utah Way” and is it as pervasive as many claim?
Pignanelli: “Utah was founded by exiles from the United States…and its history still defines the state. So, it may seem a strange place for lessons for the rest of America”—The Economist
As an Italian Irish Catholic whose family has dwelled here more than a century, my experiences vary from the traditional Utahn. Yet, I possess a passionate conviction in “The Utah Way”.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excel in many ways — except for tooting their horns. I am happy to blow the instruments for them.
Utah’s success is a direct effect from the church and its members. The institution prioritizes education, family, community, patriotism, etc. Their legacy of enduring hardship, discrimination, and decades of abuse from government percolates deep in the society. The multiple tragedies did not produce victimization but rather a drive to achieve through hard work, tolerance, collaboration, and compassion.
There would be no Utah without the church. Our geographical area would have been the borderlands of Nevada and Colorado. The pioneers intentionally moved here with an intent to build a beacon of hope and faith. This “sense of purpose” still abides. Without full-time clergy, multitudes volunteer time to fulfill numerous important roles — an environment unparalleled on the planet.
These dynamics create a quality that permeates the thoughts and actions of members and nonmembers. I consistently observe this force in business, political and community activities. Many articulate the advantages of the Utah Way. As a heathen Gentile, I help explain its origins.
Webb: There’s no question that we have a more collaborative, less siloed, business and political culture than is the case in many other states. I’ve heard a number of key leaders who have come to Utah from elsewhere, really without much knowledge of the state, comment that Utah’s collaborative tradition is unique, refreshing and effective.
For example, Andrew Gruber is executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council and has emerged as a trusted and effective leader in transportation in Utah. We’re very lucky to have him and his family. Gruber came from the Chicago area a number of years ago where turf battles were unrelenting among cities, counties, public transit districts and the state transportation department. I’ve heard him comment how remarkable it is for all agencies and stakeholders, along with the Legislature and business community, to voluntarily work together to solve Utah’s short- and long-range transportation challenges.
Another example: The Salt Lake Chamber has unified the business community all across the state, and works with government and other institutions more effectively than almost any business organization in the country.
This sort of collaborative spirit is common across the spectrum of fields and disciplines in Utah. We see it in business, government and down at the neighborhood level.
How does the “Utah Way” impact politics?
Pignanelli: The most cited examples are the 2010 Utah Compact on immigration and the 2015 Nondiscrimination Amendments. Other achievements are subtle but real.
There is a deep admonition of “don’t embarrass us”. Our elected and appointed leaders are devoid of scandal and ethical misconduct. When such infrequent lapses do occur, the issue is resolved quickly. A focus on excellence results in Utah consistently garnering awards (best managed, most innovative, strong finances, etc.) The minority party has greater influence in legislative deliberations than colleagues in other states. Extremists in both parties are tolerated but quietly sequestered from actual governance.
Webb: Politics is a tough business, and our accommodating nature has to be balanced, sometimes, with a willingness to go to battle. On tough and divisive political issues, we can’t always say, “Can’t we all just get along?” – or we get run over.
Politicians and activist groups often play hardball. They want victory and they’re willing to destroy the opposition. If only one side compromises, that’s called defeat. And this isn’t just a game. It’s freedom, taxes, coercion, and even life and death.
So, I value the sentiment that we need to come together, we need to compromise, we need to meet in the middle. I appreciate the centrists like Sen. Mitt Romney and congressmen John Curtis and Blake Moore. But I also am grateful for the strong, fighting conservatives like Sen. Mike Lee and congressmen Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens.
Sometimes you just have to say, “That legislation was written in hell by the devil himself!”
Can the “Utah Way” survive in the 21st Century?
Pignanelli: The expected dramatic increase in population could either be a fatal blow or a huge opportunity for practitioners of the “Utah Way”. If Utahns continue to embrace their unique history and culture, this remarkable endowment will flourish.
Webb: While our culture is remarkably effective overall, the danger always exists that we become too insular and comfortable within our own religious and cultural circles at individual, family and neighborhood levels. We must be genuinely inclusive and welcoming because the “Utah Way” is not narrow-minded or intolerant.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: email@example.com.