Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: We can't help but revel in the politico buzz

Last week, Utahns witnessed intra-party dynamics on both edges of the Utah political spectrum — from the Salt Lake City mayoral race to the Republican Party leadership. Politicos reveled in all the gossip, conjectures and buzz. We just can’t help ourselves:

If the Republican Party loses its lawsuit against SB54/Count My Vote, GOP Chairman James Evansand other party activists want to develop a “screening” test for prospective candidates who use the signature petition process to get on the primary election ballot. The screening could include an interview by a Republican committee to determine loyalty and adherence to party principles. What is going on here?

Pignanelli: “Everyone loves a witch hunt as long as it’s someone else’s witch being hunted.” — Walter Kirn

Politicos are having loads of fun with this controversy — especially as to potential McCarthy-like questions asked of candidates in this Star Chamber: Do you revere Ronald Reagan as the greatest president ever? Do you concur Barack Obama is the personification of evil? Do you commit to never meet alone with a Democrat? Do you agree that FOXNews is the only source of wisdom and truth in the media? Further, the proposal is garnering hilarious comments about the “Utah Politburo” with Evans as “Dear Leader.”

CMV decimates delegates’ influence — in both parties. Thus, the neighborhood powerbrokers will do ANYTHING to maintain control and demand fealty with Inquisition-style tactics. Thank goodness “True Americans” are outraged (and possibly amused) by this shredding of cherished constitutional principles that protect freedom of thought. Many would be mad … if they were not laughing so hard.

Webb: It takes a special talent to come up with a scheme that is at once bizarre, offensive, illogical, unworkable, anti-democratic and a PR nightmare for the Republican Party. But Evans et al. dreamed big and did it.

Republican idol Ronald Reagan had this to say in 1967: “We must keep the door open … we cannot offer (voters) a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments. … Such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections. This kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat, and it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be. … The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally, is a broad party. There is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths.”

Can you imagine an idealistic young Republican wanting to run for the Legislature discovering he or she first must be grilled by The Committee to Ensure Republican Purity? What if he or she is fiscally conservative, but a little more moderate on same-sex marriage and environmental issues? Is this young person “pure” enough to be a Republican?

Silly me. I always thought, like Ronald Reagan, that the role of party leaders was to encourage more people to participate in the party — not shrink it to the purified few who pass litmus tests.

How about we do something really riotous: Let prospective candidates make their case to voters instead of to The Committee to Ensure Republican Purity.

This saga just goes from silly and ridiculous to pathetic and sad.

Less than two weeks after he announced his candidacy, State Sen. James Dabakis dropped out of the Salt Lake City mayoral race and endorsed fellow activist Jackie Biskupski against Mayor Ralph Becker. What is going on here?

Pignanelli: Polls indicated Dabakis enjoyed strong name identification and popularity. But there is a “but.” Mayoral candidates in a medium-size city face a daunting task. They must spend the comparable amount of time raising money as required by statewide and congressional races, yet also devote massive efforts to retail politics as demanded in local legislative races. Further, because Becker’s challengers share equal ideological auras, punching through a primary is a monstrous chore that weakens prospects against the incumbent in the general election. Dabakis suddenly comprehended he has a great gig and ready-made soapbox as state senator. So why mess that up?

Webb: The mind and deeds of James Dabakis are simply unfathomable for an average human brain like mine. I can’t even dare to guess why he was in and out like a whirling dervish.

Obviously, these developments indicate fissures within the Republican and Democratic parties. How deep and permanent are they?

Pignanelli: This is just a blip for Democrats, but could foster major divisions within the Utah GOP. Major donors and elected officials (many subject to subpoena for supporting CMV) will not tolerate this behavior and pursue a strategy of deprivation of resources. Furthermore, candidates who follow the law, but are stripped of Republican affiliation for impure thoughts, will mount successful lawsuits. Nonetheless, delegates will control the party apparatus. Resolution is inevitable, but so are long-lasting hard feelings.

Webb: Utah voters are smart. I fully trust them. They will continue to elect mainstream conservatives to most offices in the state, no matter what havoc party leaders wreak. Republican candidates will win up and down the ballot. For many GOP candidates, the party is irrelevant. In Salt Lake City, Mayor Becker will probably win re-election. Outside the city, however, Democratic infighting can lose elections because Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote.