Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: For springtime, we stop to smell the political roses

In a bit of a springtime twist, May showers are bringing June flowers. We stop to smell the political roses.

Politicos are awaiting a special legislative session to address Healthy Utah, the governor’s Medicaid expansion program. A new player is now on the scene: the billionaire Koch brothers’ super PAC Americans for Prosperity has opened an office in Utah. What impact will this have?

Pignanelli: “Money has always been in politics. And I'm not sure you'd want money to be completely out of politics.” — Bill Gates

Proponents of Medicaid expansion dominate the media with compelling arguments to increase medical coverage. Republican and Democrat politicians, business and community leaders push the PR offensive against recalcitrant House members. Lefty organizations bombard constituents with mailers attacking these stubborn lawmakers. This legislative holdout is reminiscent of the siege of the Alamo.

But a rescue operation has commenced. The controversial Koch Super PAC will alter the debate with huge efforts on television, radio and the mail. Moreover, the organization tapped a savvy Utahn, the experienced political operative Evelyn Everton, to direct activities. Her expertise and sensitivities to local dynamics guarantees reverberations.

Also, this new development is an acknowledgment that Utah matters because the ultimate Medicaid decision will be a leverage tool with other states. To reaffirm the following is arrogant (a standard insult hurled at me) but true: what happens in Utah often impacts the nation.

Webb: I say welcome, Brothers Koch, to Utah. Your money will be good for the economy. Now if we can get Sheldon Adelson, MoveOn.org, George Soros, and a few other billionaire front groups to set up shop here we can bring in enough revenue to overtake Idaho in per-pupil spending.

The Koch group has already sent mailers to the constituents of key legislators opposing Healthy Utah. But I believe Utahns and Utah legislators are smart enough not to be swayed by these groups that take blunt, simplistic positions on complex problems.

Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders are moving toward a reasonable Medicaid expansion solution that uses money Utah taxpayers are already paying for health care services, while protecting the state from long-term financial perils. I don’t think the Koch group will prevent Utah lawmakers from finding common-sense solutions to Utah’s challenges.

In a rare burst of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate passed legislation that maintains — but also narrows — the National Security Agency’s authority to gather phone calling data. Are Sen. Mike Lee's outspoken positions on the issue, and his leadership in constructing the new snooping law, helpful or harmful to his reputation in Utah?

Pignanelli: A prominent community leader grumbled last week: "I wish Lee would coach the Jazz. He's an obvious turnaround master who had a better season than they did." Last month, the National Journal highlighted Lee as a “hard-core policy entrepreneur” with an “ideas factory” who is garnering praise from the media and politicos of all affiliations. His foray into the national security debate was brilliant. Tea party and left wing activists appreciated his tough stance protecting privacy. Moderate Republicans are complimentary of his ability to craft a bipartisan solution that passed. Potential Republican challengers now face an even larger hurdle.

Webb: This is Mike Lee’s law. He gets credit or blame for it. It is a compromise, and it’s much better than Sen. Rand Paul’s frontal attack on NSA. I love to hear Lee arguing against “cynical government-by-cliff brinkmanship.” He’s obviously turned a corner in his Senate career. He said if Republicans “ever want to improve their standing among the American people, then we must abandon this habit of political gamesmanship.”

Of course, 20 months ago he was blithely engaging in brinkmanship and gamesmanship and helping to shut down the government. But he’s a fast learner. From now on, we can expect Lee the Master of Compromise.

Personally, I’m with Sen. Orrin Hatch on this issue. I don’t believe it was necessary to leash the NSA and erode our national security.

Anyone who travels around Salt Lake City cannot help but notice the spring flowering of Jackie Biskupskilawn signs. Is the challenger to incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker turning this into a real race?

Pignanelli: Veteran campaigners understand signs are an unreliable indicator of support. Yet, politicos are noticing Biskupski’s feisty campaign that is grabbing attention and mounting credible opposition to Becker. The usually reserved Becker is more aggressive with the media and working retail politics. While the Mayor enjoys tremendous advantages, no one is claiming an easy walk for him this year.

Webb: As the token Republican living in downtown Salt Lake City, I wish I had a nice Republican mayoral candidate to vote for. Alas, it’s not to be. City Republicans are so scarce we can’t even field a candidate, let alone get one elected.

But the city is doing quite well. Downtown has problems all big cities have, but it is alive, vibrant and a great place to live. Becker has been a steady hand. He even gets along with business-oriented Mormon Republicans like me. Certainly, barnacles and mistakes pile up over two terms in office, but I predict the good liberals of the capital city will re-elect him.