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Why is national politics so acrimonious, while state government is effective?

As the Utah legislative session concludes, the disconnect between national and local political interests is on full display.

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Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, is sworn in by Dan Hemmert, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, during the first day of the 2021 general legislative session in the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The Legislature just finished a jam-packed 45-day session that was productive and mostly cordial. Meanwhile, at the national level, high-profile Republicans and Democrats have been lobbing insults and accusations at each other and even at moderate members of their own parties. We have opinions about these remarkable contrasts.

Pundits say rhetoric at the Conservative Political Action Conference is evidence of the implosion and demise of the national Republican Party, especially because of its attachment to former President Donald J. Trump. Were such dynamics reflected in Utah’s recent legislative activities?

Pignanelli: “The first thing the federal government can do to help is get out of the way.”— Bob Schaffer 

Often the juxtaposition of national political leaders with state officials is evocative of typical parent-teenager relationships. Clearly, lawmakers and governors are the adults confronting everyday concerns, dealing with deadlines, anticipating issues and balancing budgets. In comparison, a frequent display of federal nonsense is adolescent behavior. While these differences existed for generations, they are notably stark in 2021.

The pandemic is a turbo accelerator of change in our lifestyles and society. Utah officials are not waiting for guidance. Instead, they are rapidly adjusting government in response to these new dynamics with practical considerations. Although very conservative, many legislative Republicans (through the leadership of President Stuart Adams and Speaker Brad Wilson) are engaged in efforts to craft public initiatives in response to changes in health care, education, technology, growth, etc. As a 34-year-old veteran of the process, what happened in the last six weeks was distinctive and now likely a permanent fixture.

These activities are replicating to some degree in other states. This invigoration dismisses the claims of foolish pundits and documents that the GOP is very much alive and well. Although change is occurring, complaints about teenagers and Washington, D.C., remain the ever constant.

Webb: The Utah Republican Party has its factions, but it is generally united. One thing that will help unite the national GOP over the next few years is opposition to the most liberal administration and congressional majority in the history of the country.

A good share of the acrimony and chaos at the national level is a result of congressional majorities and presidential administrations (in both parties) attempting to impose one-size-fits-all solutions on the entire country when half the country rejects those solutions.

It would make far better sense, on issues where states should have primacy, to allow each state to solve its own problems. Let Utah be Utah and let California be California. Mandates from Washington anger half the country and produce the sort of dysfunction and gridlock we see in Congress.

A great example is the $15 per hour mandatory federal minimum wage demanded by the Biden administration. Liberal states and their politicians want it. Conservative states and their politicians don’t want it. So we end up with angry, bloody fights in Congress.

So why not do the sensible thing? Keep the feds out of it. Let states and local governments do what they think is best for them based on local conditions. We live in a big, diverse country. What works in San Francisco is different than what works In Provo.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress would still have plenty to fight about, like immigration, foreign policy and other things that are uniquely federal responsibilities. But they could cut their bickering in half if they allowed states and local governments to control programs that are better served by local solutions rather than national mandates.

Of course, funding for these programs would need to be left in the states rather than being collected by the IRS and then sent back to the states in diminished amounts. 

Are Utah Democrats suffering from the antics of their national counterparts?

Pignanelli: Progressives are threatening congressional Democrats who do not fully support their agenda. (The hilarious inconsistency of their anger at Trump supporters targeting moderate Republicans is lost on them.) Utah Democrat lawmakers have rejected such narrow thinking. Despite their limited numbers, Democrats collaborated with Republicans to pass substantial policy initiatives in various areas. Led by leaders like Sen. Karen Mayne and Rep. Brian King, the minority caucuses have influenced many deliberations in the post pandemic restructuring. This is a credit to the Democrats and to the Republicans who value their input.

Webb: Utah has a small contingent of truly left-wing Democrats, but it is a lonely group that is mostly ignored. The GOP legislative domination is a fairly benevolent dictatorship. Democrats are mostly listened to and even sponsor important legislation. Most Utah Democratic lawmakers are practical and effective. 

With such a disconnect between national and local political interests, who will prevail?

Pignanelli: Federal politicians and the national media feed each other in dominating “America’s political discourse” (a kind description). But history documents the focus of state and other regional officials is what percolates into long-term electoral success. This will exponentially increase as social media highlights the ability of state officials to accomplish pragmatic objectives of benefit to constituents — especially in comparison to the federal process.

Webb: The federal government will continue to grow larger, more domineering, and more indebted ($28 trillion and counting) until states have tools to push back to achieve a proper balance in the federal system.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.