Frank R. Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb: Here are the political issues we’re watching this September

Under Utah Debate Commission rules, any candidate in a race who polls 10 percentage points, minus the survey’s margin of error, is invited to participate in the debate. At the time of this writing, the Debate Commission planned to do a second survey to determine if Jim Bennett, the 3rd Congressional District United Utah Party candidate, would be allowed to participate in the debate. Is Bennett a viable candidate? Is the Debate Commission screening candidates fairly?

Pignanelli: “Without third parties, all forward movement stops. They're essential.” — Jill Stein

All my underwear is older than the recently created Utah United Party (I know — too much information). It is remarkable that with limited resources, this tiny local insurgency captured almost 6 percent in recent polling. Thus, something is bubbling inside Utah politics.

A special-interest group or media organization conducting political discussion has the right to determine the participants. But the Utah Debate Commission holds itself above partisan pettiness and supposedly this allows it to impose guidelines on candidate debates. Its efforts of promoting discourse in the election process are self-limited to "viable" candidates. What does that mean? A true test of electoral viability would eliminate Republicans in Salt Lake City and Democrats in many other Utah locales.

There is no public or government mandate behind the commission. (Membership is from major parties and the media.) So if it wants to legitimately claim to represent the public interest, it must incorporate what voters are actually expressing.

Bennett and the UUP deserve the same as my underwear — a chance to be worn.

Webb: Certainly, the debate would be more interesting with Bennett in it. But it would also be more interesting if the Libertarian candidate was invited. And then all eight candidates would have to be invited and the debate would become unwieldy, boring and mostly useless. The Debate Commission is right to have a threshold to weed out non-serious candidates, some of whom filed just for the fun of it, to get their 15 minutes of fame.

In theory, Bennett’s United Utah Party should have a chance. The target audience is unaffiliated voters and centrist moderates in both of the main parties — and they total enough to win. But the reality is a lot more difficult. With a mainstream Republican like Provo Mayor John Curtis in the race, moderates see no reason to go astray.

Are the homeless initiatives, including the law enforcement crackdown, going well? What are the political risks to politicians who are heavily invested in the success of this project?

Pignanelli: Until March 2017, most observers pigeonholed Speaker Greg Hughes as a conservative, successful insider within the legislative arena, but fostered questions whether he could survive outside Capitol Hill.

Those questions have been answered.

Hughes took a risk by following his heart with a sincere desire to solve a problem plaguing the downtown for decades. His personality was perfect for pushing local and state officials to work together.

The Rio Grande situation seems to be on a path to resolution, for which Hughes will capture enormous credit. But even if success is spotty, Hughes (and other officials involved) will receive plaudits from Utahns for trying.

Webb: It is fascinating to see three future potential political competitors — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Speaker Hughes and Lt. Gov Spencer Cox — put aside their natural rivalries and work together on an important initiative. They have also developed genuine friendship and respect for each other.

Thanks to the cooperation among different levels and branches of government, the initiative is going well. It won’t be without conflict and hurt feelings. It is costly and difficult. All stakeholders know it must be a long-term, focused project. But real people are being helped, their lives improved. It’s worth the effort.

President Donald Trump has had a few reasonably good weeks, focusing on relief efforts in Texas and Florida and keeping his tweet-storms in check. He’s reaching out to congressional Democrats on a variety of issues, including immigration and tax reform. Is Trump doing better or is this just a short detour?

Pignanelli: Although Republicans are grumpy, the outreach by Trump to Democrats was a shrewd move as Americans are appreciative of any effort to prevent more government stalemate. They do not care about PR point scoring by the parties and want a federal government that works. Trump gets it, and this pivot reaffirms his status as an independent.

Webb: I’ve given up predicting what Trump might do. Does he have a master plan, or does he govern by whim? This could be a turning point for his presidency. Or it could be just another fleeting inconsistency. It’s interesting to see Trump playing footsies with the same Democrats who have ruthlessly savaged him for a couple of years.

Trump wants to get things done, which is great. But if it means caving in to the demands of liberal Democrats, ballooning the debt and growing the size of government, the country will be the worse. Better to form an alliance with centrists from both parties.