Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Gubernatorial and legislative dynamics always interesting to watch

The Utah Legislature is a week old and Gov. Gary Herbert has outlined his priorities in his State of the State speech. The gubernatorial/legislative dynamics are always interesting to watch.

What are the issues the Republican Legislature and the Republican governor are likely to agree on? What are the tough issues likely to be disputed?

Pignanelli: “A speech is like a love affair. Any fool can start it, but to end it requires considerable skill.” — Lord Mansfield

As a member of a live audience for the State of the State for 10 years, I comprehend why governors love them so much. It is the only time each year that lawmakers must respectfully sit in silence without offering any contrary opinions, while the chief executive proclaims his/her objectives.

Gov. Herbert made it easy on the Legislature with few demands. By listing the accomplishments the state has achieved in a number of areas, he was sending the signal to lawmakers ”don't mess it up.” Legislators are in constant communication with party delegates, activists, committee leaders, and so he will keep relations with them strong.

Without using the words "Medicaid expansion," he did reference health care for Utahns. The Legislature is unlikely to adopt the governor’s program, but a streamlined version will be considered.

Media outlets are grateful that the governor covered many topics, with a delivery of less than 30 minutes. Brevity and efficiency in all things — but especially government and speechmaking — is admired and appreciated.

Webb: Utah sports a conservative Republican governor and a conservative Republican Legislature, and they are in sync on the big philosophical themes — low taxes, limited government, free enterprise and traditional social issue principles. So Utah should win the Miss Congeniality award, right?

Well, not quite. They will agree that education is the top priority, but they will fight over details of funding and reforms. They will fight over Medicaid expansion, but may find agreement on a modest approach. Herbert asked lawmakers to support economic development in rural areas, and he challenged legislators and the education community to boost high school graduation rates to 90 percent in the next four years. He called for elimination of outdated laws and changes in the regulatory structure to allow the 21st century sharing economy to thrive. He won’t get much argument from lawmakers on the value of those proposals, but the details may prove rancorous.

Another prominent Utahn, a Democrat, has announced his candidacy for governor. What impact will gubernatorial election politics have on Herbert's agenda?

Pignanelli: Regardless of party, Utahns should be proud of the caliber of citizens vying for the governorship. In addition to the popular Herbert, three entrepreneurs are offering their experience.

The recent entry is Michael Weinholtz, who enjoys a strong reputation in the business and charitable community.

Overstock Chairman Jonathon Johnson hired some of the best political advisers in the state to push an inter-party challenge to Herbert. Thus, his decision to pursue only the delegate route for the nomination suggests support and a vigorous convention strategy.

Herbert has the advantage of resources, popularity and national recognition of Utah accomplishments. But he understands the potential of his opponents and will subtly maneuver to decrease potential attacks from them.

It would be a clever political tactic for Herbert to claim that his opponents succeeded in business because of his administration's programs.

Webb: The election is going to be hotly contested, but Herbert is in pretty good shape as the incumbent. He’s riding high in the polls, especially among conservative and moderate Republicans and independents, which make up the bulk of the electorate.

Republican Johnson will attack from the right, and Democrat Weinholtz from the left. Both will attempt to portray Herbert as a manager lacking visionary leadership to take the state to the next level.

Herbert is in sync with citizens in calling for increased education funding and modest Medicaid expansion. He’s proposing no tax increases or borrowing. His agenda is safe, conservative, steady-as-she goes — without any moon shots or grandiose proposals. So he does remain vulnerable to charges that he’s not sufficiently visionary or futuristic.

But with a strong economy, low unemployment and the vast majority of voters thinking Utah is going in the right direction, Herbert will be tough to beat.

Is the perception correct that the governor and Republican legislative leaders are at odds more than usual?

Pignanelli: The Legislature has increased its influence on state government operations, at the expense of the executive branch. Also, 21st century legislative leaders are more willing to publicly disagree with the governor. These dynamics may create the impression of hostility, but is only a reflection of politics in an expanding state.

Webb: They get along as well as can be expected, but gubernatorial/legislative politics are never simple. The governor is one person, while the Legislature is 104 unique, independent politicians with differing priorities and mandates — many thinking they ought to be governor themselves. This natural tension is good for democracy as long as it doesn’t result in the sort of gridlock and dysfunction that is choking the federal government.