LaVarr Webb and Frank R. Pignanelli: Orrin Hatch, the homeless and that Russia problem

We are grateful for Utah politicians. They keep us engaged in local issues while the rest of the country obsesses about Russians and tweets. We explore political topics on the minds of Utahns (but we can’t completely avoid that Russia problem).

Last week, Utah made national news once again — not for the usual good reasons, but for the criminal activity surrounding the homeless shelters, including an attack on a visiting baseball player, and reports of drug cartels operating in this area. House Speaker Greg Hughes, who led the effort to fund new resources for this population, has had enough. He suggested it might be time to call in the National Guard and appoint a homeless czar. Is this a rational response — especially in light of the battles between Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County? Or is this just a publicity stunt?

Pignanelli: “In Temple Square in Salt Lake City, you'll see a homeless person standing in the middle of their nice, beautiful square, holding out a cup for change. The Mormons never ever ask him to leave.” — Trey Parker

When visiting New York City, I engage in the ritual of walking at least 40 blocks. During this stroll, I may (usually not) encounter a panhandler.

In Salt Lake City, a very different situation blemishes our otherwise sterling reputation of a well-managed, efficient community.

Panhandling is different than homelessness and lawlessness. But the dynamics are related and serve a daily reminder of a much larger tragedy. Many good people have devoted time and effort, but no solution seems in sight.

So bless Greg Hughes for being … Greg Hughes. He is saying radically outrageous things to capture attention while demanding action from governmental and nonprofit entities. Hughes is credible because he and other Republican lawmakers “walked the walk” by dedicating tremendous resources towards new shelters. Only an aggressive approach by state leaders can make a serious dent.

The politics is interesting. A conservative from Draper is constructing homeless solutions in a liberal bastion.

Webb: The homeless problem is so intractable that the political class will let it slide unless someone keeps the heat on. Hughes focused some intense heat that got the attention of leaders and citizens once again. A state czar may be necessary if Salt Lake City and county can’t work cooperatively. The Salt Lake City mayor’s office especially needs to be leading this effort.

The long-term plan to open new resource facilities and to divert people needing help into effective programs makes a lot of sense. But that doesn’t solve the immediate problem.

Part of the immediate problem is that some people want to live as they’re living and will not take advantage of helpful programs. That’s fine, but they should not be allowed to camp out anywhere they please. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder suggested finding an open area that could be designated as a campground. Let them camp there (and only there). It can be patrolled and kept as safe as possible.

We’ll never entirely solve the homeless challenge. But we must not tolerate criminal activity.

Sen. Orrin Hatch continues to play coy about re-election next year. Other than potential Democratic challenger Jenny Wilson forming an exploratory committee, no one has raised his/her head in a meaningful way to take on Hatch. Is Hatch running, or freezing the field until his chosen replacement announces?

Pignanelli: Veteran politicos express gratitude for the senator’s achievements, but also articulate a concern over his age and length of service. Yet, no one is challenging Hatch. He still commands a deep respect for a formidable campaign prowess.

Even if the senator desires to retire, he notices the void of eagerness to confront him. So why not run again?

Webb: Across the country, most 2018 campaigns for major offices are off and running hard. Unless you are wealthy or famous, you’re already late getting started if you’re running for the U.S. Senate in 2018. It takes a very long time to raise money and get organized across the state.

Hatch is skillfully playing the game, freezing everyone out until it becomes too late to mount an effective campaign. A lot of people close to Hatch don’t think he will run in 2018. But it’s very difficult for a potential challenger to raise money and get organized with Hatch still playing footsie.

Hatch may be keeping the seat warm for Mitt Romney or someone else he favors. It’s time for him to definitively announce his intentions.

The Trump/Russia saga drags on, pulling in Donald Jr., and his meeting with a Russian attorney. Is it still just smoke, and will it ever end?

Pignanelli: Notwithstanding any ethical or legal concerns, the controversy is embarrassing for the country. The supposedly smart people behind the Trump campaign demonstrated incredible naïveté and were brilliantly manipulated by the Russians. Also, any politico understands the first rule of conducting opposition research: leave no fingerprints.

Webb: Citizens are exhausted over the Russia/Trump connections and most are tuning out. The Donald Jr. meeting was just more smoke — no proof of collusion. More and more, the “Russia scandal” as Democrats call it, is just white noise. The more strident and noisy the left is in denouncing Trump, the more people dismiss it as just politics.

As I’ve written before, Trump is by no means blameless for the furor. Many of his wounds are self-inflicted. The really unfortunate thing is that hubris on both sides is preventing important work from getting done.