Pignanelli and Webb: Introspection on heroes and other current issues

The November elections, the passing of heroes and the recent special legislative session are the potpourri of holiday political discussions. We dive in with our thoughts — or actually the buzz we hear from people much smarter than we are.

Utah voter turnout was almost 75 percent in November’s nonpresidential election. Did the ballot initiatives contribute to this rush to the ballot box and will high voter interest be replicated in future elections?

Pignanelli: “Political analysts tend to overinterpret the results of isolated elections.” — Jacob Weisberg

Pumpkin spice is a new cultural phenomenon that entices the public's appetite around Labor Day and is consumed deep into the fall and early winter. This sweet flavoring influences a variety of foods and eating patterns. Initiatives are the pumpkin spice of Utah politics, impacting numerous electoral dynamics.

The petition process that allows candidates to be placed on a primary creates a permanent source of income for local signature gathering firms and is a solid base to expand into lucrative efforts of initiatives and referenda. The Utah-based companies are cheaper and more efficient than most out-of-state firms and will be kept busy in future election cycles.

Initiative activities attract major infusion of dollars for both proponents and opponents throughout the entire process. This dramatically alters the landscape for others sharing the ballot in terms of messaging, social media, fundraising and field operations. Further, the newest technologies are used to identify voters and provide tools to promote turnout. In addition, policy issues enthuse a sector of the electorate not excited about a candidate.

Although the degree is still in dispute, local politicos are concurring the recent initiatives directly moved the results in November, perhaps equal to the sway of responses to the president. This alternate legislative dynamic is now a regular feature.

So, expect the pumpkin spice of politics to be a regular condiment.

Webb: Lots of factors created a perfect storm for voter turnout: Hate and love of Donald Trump, a nasty, negative and hotly contested Love/McAdams congressional race, plus three high-interest ballot propositions, an opinion question on raising the fuel tax and three constitutional amendments.

Say what you want about Trump, there’s no denying he motivates voters — for him and against him. As long as he’s around, voter turnout will be high. We’ll also have a big gubernatorial election in 2020, so expect a colossal voting year.

In recent weeks, Utah lost a couple of heroes: Marine and police officer David Romrell, and North Ogden Mayor and Utah National Guard Major Brent Taylor. This was followed by the death of former Pres. George H.W. Bush. Can the loving remembrances and touching eulogies dedicated to these marvelous individuals bridge the deep political divides that separate Americans? Can we become a “kinder, gentler” state and nation?

Pignanelli: In comparison to other periods of our history, we are a “kinder, gentler” country. There is screaming among left and right extremists, with viciousness dripping from traditional and social media. Talking heads disparage those who disagree. Yet, every day at funerals, sports events, concerts, religious gatherings, disaster relief, school functions and other activities, Americans are overwhelmingly decent and bridge any divides.

Webb: I’m an old, stoic, skeptical, washed-out former journalist, but I was deeply touched by the sacrifices of Romrell and Taylor, and their families, and by the extraordinary legacy and example of our 41st president.

The words “love,” “kindness” and even “forgiveness” were used a lot in the last several days, both in Utah and in that most cynical of places — Washington, D.C. Some people probably thought they were hearing a foreign language.

I suppose the ultimate test of the great lessons taught by these wonderful individuals is whether change is wrought in the lives of those who were listening. In my case, it made me regret offending anyone, or being unfair in something I’ve written or said. It reaffirmed to me that political differences should not spark anger, unkindness or cruelty. There are vastly more important things in life than winning a political argument just for the sake of winning, or posting a snarky response on Facebook. I ended last week thinking I must do better.

Last week’s special session, in which the medical marijuana initiative was amended, was not without controversy. Any fallout?

Pignanelli: The compromise legislation crafted by proponents and opponents was a necessary exercise in realpolitik. But the implementation, and public perception, will be carefully scrutinized by politicians and activists to determine any potential strategy for changes to the other initiatives passed in 2018 and in future years.

Webb: Utah ended up with a pretty good marijuana law. It’s by no means perfect, but it makes an excellent effort to strike a balance — providing controlled access to the medicinal properties of cannabis by those who need it while protecting society from marijuana addiction and health damage among young people.