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Opinion: The Great Salt Lake, a new Utah flag, abortion debates — what will affect midterms most?

Should Utah get a flag redesign? Will abortion matter to Utah voters? Are we utilizing the Great Salt Lake?

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The American flag and the Utah flag in the Gold Room of the Utah Capitol.

The American flag and the Utah flag are pictured inside the Gold Room at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Plenty of hot issues face voters and policymakers as the 2022 election nears and as lawmakers prepare for the 2023 legislative session. Here are a few we are watching. 

The Great Salt Lake is a world famous natural feature, which explains the national and international media attention on its current decline. Also, state officials are budgeting hundreds of millions of dollars to increase water levels in the lake. Sen. Mitt Romney and our congressional delegation are seeking federal funding. Is all this money well spent? Can the state really do anything to mitigate the impact of drought and climate change on the lake? 

Pignanelli: “That which lies nearest is best.” — Alfred Lambourne, Our Inland Sea, 1887  

My fellow native Utahns and I possess a fierce pride in the state’s many renown diverse natural treasures. Thus, to discover the most recognizable feature — the Great Salt Lake — is in jeopardy shakes us to the core.

This remnant from ancient Lake Bonneville is critical to our modern lifestyle. Thankfully state officials, with Speaker Brad Wilson at the helm, are undertaking measures to prevent a potential catastrophe. Contemporaneously, they are instructing Utahns that future economic growth depends upon actions reflecting this is the second most arid state and adjusting water consumption accordingly.

Further, obliteration of the lake will be a calamity for the western United States. So federal funds to prevent this natural disaster are appropriate expenditures.

Although difficulties abound, we will overcome this challenge. Wilson and other leaders deserve commendations for illustrating our wonderful lake is more than just a big blue blob on the map.

Webb: The leadership and enthusiasm of top Utah politicians to save the Great Salt Lake is welcome and long overdue. We have this gigantic salty lake with unique characteristics at our doorstep. When was the last time you went to the lake to swim, picnic, camp or hike? It has been an underutilized resource for a hundred years or more. It has not been successfully developed or promoted as a recreational or tourism asset.

Obviously, the lake has many challenges and that’s why development hasn’t happened. Shoreline fluctuations, especially, make investment difficult. But I don’t think we’ve had Utah’s best thinkers turn their advanced technology, innovation and ingenuity to the lake. We need to do it.

Years ago, I regularly took Scout groups to the lake and to Antelope Island. The views, serenity and fun of bobbing in the salty water was great fun. It was minutes away from Salt Lake City, but seemed a world away. Let’s save the lake and turn it into a great asset.

The Legislature wants a new state flag. A flag task force is allowing Utahns to view and vote on the semifinalists at: https://flag.utah.gov/final-flag-designs. The question is: Do we really need a new flag? And are any of the 20 semifinalists better than the old one? Could this be a controversial issue when the Legislature makes the final decision next year?

Pignanelli: Utah would not exist without our unique heritage. From the Indigenous peoples to the current 21st century residents, regardless of religious affiliation we are who we are because of what happened in 1847. The proposed flags do not reference that year (the current flag does).

Utilizing the intriguing history of the beehive, ranging from the masthead of this paper to our state symbol, helps the effort. Yet, the state flag should contain a direct respectful acknowledgment of the incredible events 173 years ago that influenced our common culture. Hopefully, lawmakers include such in the final version.

Webb: I really haven’t paid much attention to the flag competition. I kind of like the old flag. But then I’m an old, boring guy. I couldn’t judge what would make a cool, new flag. I wouldn’t recognize it even if I saw it.

The issue of abortion continues to partly define the 2022 midterm election. In Utah, 24 Utah House members told abortion providers they must comply with Utah’s new law, or face consequences, even though the law is under review in the courts. At the national level, Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a bill making abortion illegal, with some exceptions, after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Will this issue have a big impact on the election in Utah and nationally?

Pignanelli: Voter reactions to the Supreme Court decision are locked in for the immediate future, so recent activities will have little effect on local elections. However, lawmakers are serving fair warning of future legislation on this issue. Clarification on many collateral questions is expected.

Webb: When we’re talking about the lives of unborn babies, the most defenseless humans of all, in the context of the rights of women to make medical decisions with their doctors, the abortion issue is obviously very emotional and important. It motivates some voters on both sides to go to the polls and vote for candidates who reflect their views.

But for most voters, other issues, like jobs, inflation and the quality of candidates, are more germane in their lives and will determine how they vote. Abortion isn’t a pressing issue in Utah because most Utah voters are pro-life, and so are their elected officials and candidates.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant. 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.