Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Utah is an island of rationality in a sea of political lunacy

The year of political lunacy continues, although Utah is a relative island of rationality. We take a look at what’s happening.

The legislative session ends Thursday at midnight. What’s the outlook for the session’s big issues?

(Pignanelli) "I learned while in the state legislature, important legislation is always a work in progress." — Marco Rubio

Our lawmakers appropriately resolved the most important issue of the legislative session — they rejected the well-intentioned but incorrect proposal to replace Columbus Day with "Indigenous People's Day." A holiday celebrating the tremendous civilizations existing before the arrival of European explorers should be established — but not at the expense (in my unbiased opinion) of honoring that noble, colorful and courageous collection of humanity who immigrated from the Italian peninsula — on the second Monday of every October. The importance of Italians to America is best illustrated by the maxim: "We found it. We named it. We built it."

In the months leading to the legislative session, there was an expectation of additional one-time and ongoing revenues. Unfortunately, recent revenue projections are less than announced, so legislators have the tough task of trimming relied-upon expenditures before they were even passed. However, lawmakers will likely provide a substantial percentage increase to public and higher education.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart successfully secured Senate support for elimination of the death penalty, and there are even odds it could pass the House. He shrewdly articulates the pain of the legal process surrounding execution is an enormous burden to victims and to the state. This is causing many current supporters of capital punishment to reconsider.

Funding and prioritization for transportation and water projects will again dominate final discussions, as will proposals for Medicaid expansion and other human service programs.

(Webb) It has been a relatively quiet session, overshadowed by the wild and crazy presidential race. That’s fine with legislators, as this is an election year and most prefer to run without big controversies hanging over them.

By Thursday midnight, Utah’s 104 citizen lawmakers will have paid for critical state needs, including more money for education, and balanced the state budget. They will have dealt forthrightly with the major issues facing the state. Modest Medicaid expansion is likely, extending health care access to Utah’s most vulnerable low-income population. As of this writing, legislation repealing the death penalty, medical marijuana, funding for homeless services and non-compete agreements were still being debated.

This was a “steady-as-she goes” session without giant initiatives, but hints are being made that the next session might be the time to make a big push for much higher education investment.

Contrasted with the national Congress, Utah’s Legislature is a model of efficiency, collaboration, common-sense and competency.

Will Mitt Romney’s speech last Thursday at the University of Utah slow Donald Trump’s surge toward the GOP nomination?

(Pignanelli) Romney's performance was interesting and fun, but cultivated many questions for politicos (i.e. Why not earlier in the primary season? Is this a one-time gig or will you lead a larger effort? Groundwork for convention, candidacy? etc.)

Romney's unprecedented actions confirm 2016 is a historic election year. Trump continues to demonstrate the established rules of campaigning that governed American politics for 70 years are no longer relevant. Furthermore, the Romney attack is the first salvo in the civil war now absorbing the Republican Party. A massive realignment of demographics and ideology is changing the political landscape. Although these dynamics are frustrating and often frightening, it is great entertainment.

(Webb) I thought Romney’s speech was substantive, compelling and absolutely spot-on. He exposed Trump as the charlatan he is. I hope it helps people come to their senses who are nervous about Trump but are attracted by his boldness and some of the things he says. Don’t be fooled. Trump is not going to suddenly become sensible.

Perhaps the speech will bolster the broad establishment crusade to deny Trump the nomination. But I fear it’s too little, too late. While the race remains unpredictable, the only chance to stop Trump is a deadlocked GOP convention resulting in chaos, furthering the meltdown of the national Republican Party. This ruckus is going to get crazier. Rather than slitting your wrists, sit back and enjoy it.

Will Trump be a no-show at the Utah GOP presidential debate March 21?

(Pignanelli) Utahns must hope that by mid-March Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (and maybe John Kasich) have each collected several important victories. This ensures a brokered convention and thereby the March 21 debate will capture the rapt attention of voters and observers across the planet. Mr. Trump cannot ignore such an audience.

(Webb) Utah is probably Trump’s worst state, but that’s not why he would skip it. In a week or two, the state of the race will be much clearer (either obvious that Trump will win, or obvious that it’s going to be a fight to the convention). If Trump has the nomination all but locked up, he will want to focus on Hillary Clinton and the general election, not debate Republicans still nipping at his heels.