Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Plenty of politics popping in the dog days of summer

We’re in the dog days of summer, but plenty of politics are popping. Our insights are worth what you pay, so here’s about a nickel’s worth.

What are the dynamics behind Jackie Biskupski’simpressive primary election win, and will she be Salt Lake City’s next mayor?

Pignanelli: "The golden rule has no place in a political campaign." — John James Ingalls

Biskupski was a well-regarded legislator — loved by liberals and respected by many Republicans. This solid reputation served as a solid springboard for her candidacy.

Salt Lake City is experiencing a mini-renaissance in so many categories — economic development, cultural expansion, high-speed fiber, fun nightlife, quality lifestyle, etc. The Becker administration is extremely efficient in hiding these achievements from the mayor’s constituents. (Remember: bragging is fundamental to success in politics and professional wrestling.) Taking advantage of this vacuum, the Biskupski campaign cleverly castigated Ralph Becker’s leadership style. Parking meters, bicycle lanes and the police chief debacle are clouding the incredible momentum in the capital city.

Becker has a difficult, but not impossible, task. In 1995, incumbent Mayor DeeDee Coradini lost her primary re-election. She restructured campaign strategy with altered messaging that persuaded undecided voters (and many who cast a ballot against her in the primary) to win the general election.

Salt Lake City voters are a fluid bunch and demand constant attention. Becker defied the odds because he knew this in 2007. Biskupski really understands this — explaining her amazing primary victory. This fluidity suggests the general election remains competitive. So the question is whether Becker is prepared to do what he must do. Will he “take the fight” to Biskupski?

The mayor's race is all about Becker. Therefore, how he responds to the primary results and crafts his messaging strategy (for him and against Biskupski) will determine the results in November.

Webb: As an old, white, male, Mormon Republican living in downtown Salt Lake City, the EPA should probably declare me an endangered species. (Although it’s more likely the EPA would declare me toxic mine waste and flush me down a river.)

At any rate, I don’t purport to understand the politics in Utah’s little ultra-liberal island. I have to get down to Utah County once in a while or I get the shakes.

Smart people who do understand the wine-and-cheese crowd tell me they think Becker didn’t get his people to vote, and he’ll do better in the final election. The moderates/Republicans/business people in the high Avenues and on the east side of the city will vote for Becker. So it’s probably still a race. Biskupski hasn’t really laid out an agenda for the city.

But the primary election losers will turn their votes toward Biskupski. The real wild card is turnout due to mail-in ballots. Ballots will be sent to the same people as in the primary. Becker will need to get a lot more people to vote. I’d say Biskupski is the favorite now, unless Becker, with more money, can pull off a minor miracle.

Did the Prison Relocation Commission play politics in recommending the Salt Lake City site for the state’s new prison, or was the selection make objectively?

Pignanelli: The selection process was open, deliberative, completely fair … and absolutely predictable. The Utah prison has been in Salt Lake County since the arrival of the pioneers. The population demographics and geography of necessary services has remained the same for over 160 years, so the selection should not be a surprise. Access to proper medical treatment, the courts, families and friends and religious volunteers (all which reduce recidivism) mandated this decision.

Webb: Even the Democrats on the commission voted for the Salt Lake City site. It really is the best site and it’s not going to upset a lot of citizens. It doesn’t encroach on neighborhoods. City residents will barely notice it. City politicians may be upset, but they don’t have a lot of clout in the Legislature. So the politics and the merits align, making it the easy choice.

Negotiations between Salt Lake County and hotel developer Omni have collapsed regarding the proposed downtown convention hotel. How big a setback is this?

Pignanelli: This could hinder Utah’s ability to keep the Outdoor Retailers Convention. But Mayor Ben McAdams refuses to violate public trust by forcing the Omni deal, reaffirming why he commands respect across the political spectrum.

Webb: This is a signal that building a big convention hotel on the county’s terms may be more difficult than thought. The fact that the county had only one development firm bid on the project, and now negotiations have ended with that firm, shows this won’t be easy. I believe the convention hotel is needed, but it’s a delicate balance to provide sufficient tax incentives while being fair to taxpayers and the existing hotel industry in Utah.