Utah temperatures are dropping, but intense politics is keeping Utahns hot (and agitated). We review some of the sizzling topics.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, viewers witnessed a huge tug-of-war and lengthy speechifying among liberal and conservative senators. Utah Sen. Mike Lee played a leading role in the action. Will this nomination and confirmation process impact national and Utah elections? What does this do for Lee’s career?
Pignanelli: “When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court? I say when there are nine, which shocks people. But when there were nine men nobody ever raised a question about that.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Responding to inquiries regarding Judge Barrett’s faith, some U.S. senators suggest American Catholics are a persecuted minority. Finally! This is official recognition of the torment I endured my entire life. Admittedly, most torture was from fellow Catholics — family members and religious instructors — imposing huge guilt trips and self-loathing. But, I’ll take whatever sympathy I can get.
Judge Barrett performed well under pressure and her personal story is compelling. This could influence the small sliver of undecided voters in the presidential contest.
The perception of Barrett could impact Senate races across the country. Right-leaning voters apprehensive with the president but comfortable with the nominee may now support GOP candidates in tight races. Conversely, the hearings also gave Democrats a strong platform to raise concerns with the potential loss of Obamacare during a health crisis.
Lee is further cemented as a conservative warrior, especially on religious liberties issues. This will set him up as a future gatekeeper on the Judiciary Committee.
The likely positive vote for Judge Barrett will result in six Catholics on the Supreme Court — weak evidence of discrimination. But trust me, other guilt trips are being created.
Webb: For moderate Republicans wavering in their support of President Trump, this nomination of a remarkable, highly-qualified, but conservative woman to the Supreme Court should remind them of the importance of having a Republican president making judicial appointments.
This importance is further amplified by threats by some Democrats to pack the Supreme Court, and the refusal of the Democratic presidential ticket to forthrightly reject court packing. If the Democrats win both the presidency and the Senate in a few weeks, pressure by the left wing of the party will be intense to add members to the court so that liberals control all three branches of the federal government. That should frighten Republican voters and drive them to support Trump and other Republicans.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lee was obviously having fun at the hearings, waving a pocket-size copy of the Constitution and discussing a range of constitutional principles. Because this confirmation is not really in doubt, and because Barrett was so cogent and succinct in her answers, there was much more speechifying by senators going on than actual questioning of Barrett. Lee got in some good speeches and made some solid points about religious freedom.
I was immensely impressed by Barrett. She will be a terrific addition to the Supreme Court.
Seven constitutional amendments will be on the Nov. 3 ballot and most, with the exception of Amendment G, are generating a sleepy reception. Currently, the Constitution restricts the use of income taxes for public and higher education. Amendment G would extend use of income taxes for programs that support children and people with disabilities. Opponents are increasing their level of activity. What are the politics of this?
Pignanelli: The 2019 and early 2020 tax reform battles were intense, and the combatants are exhausted. This welcome truce resolves budgetary problems. But for decades, education advocates treasured this unique constitutional protection for public schools and are questioning its removal.
Momentum is favoring passage as players in the political, business and education community abhor a repeated struggle over sales taxes that will result otherwise.
Webb: It’s important to remember that essentially the entire education community supports Amendment G. Combined with new statutory language, it will help stabilize and protect education funding over the long term. It is critical that the state’s tax structure be better balanced to reflect the modern economy.
In response to consistent higher levels of coronavirus cases, Gov. Gary Herbert announced a new COVID-19 transmission index with various restrictions. Any political ramifications?
Pignanelli: Herbert found the middle between competing forces. The transmission index is a clever, effective method of highlighting concerns and restrictions for large groups is commonsense. This should appease Utahns doing their best to control the virus, while legitimately resenting lifestyle limitations because of irresponsible teenagers.
Webb: My wife and I canceled a family gathering to celebrate a grandchild’s birthday because it would have violated the new guidelines. This program will work if citizens take it seriously. We can’t shut down the economy. Businesses need to stay open and children need to be in school. Let’s follow the guidelines, wear masks and keep the economic recovery going. And we’ll find a way to more than compensate for the missed birthday party.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: email@example.com.