Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: A few political rumors to chew on

Pignanelli and Webb: Our mothers taught us not to spread gossip. We adore our mothers and we will honor their heartfelt instruction . . . on Mother's Day. Until then, we will engage in our usual rumormongering. Here is some of the hot speculation.

All things Jason Chaffetz. We keep hearing that his next gig is so good that he may not run for governor 2020 (but 2028 is still an option). So what are his plans? He and his close circle are being cute and coy, but we discern that it is likely something in the communications realm. Speculation is he will have a slot on Fox News. Remember, his announcement came almost simultaneously with the departure of Bill O'Reilly.

Chaffetz replacement. Recent polling by Dan Jones & Associates and Y2Analytics produced interesting results. Utah Valley University president Matthew Holland holds a commanding favorability lead. We think he may be interested in politics at some point, but we doubt he’ll run for the U.S. House.

The contenders who remain in polite conversation include House Speaker Greg Hughes, who is sitting on a formidable pile of cash and conservative support. State Sen. Deidre Henderson is very popular in Utah County. Rep. Mike McKell is well-liked in the southern part of the county.

Provo Mayor John Curtis performed well in the polls. He’s a star among moderate voters and a lot of business people, but GOP purists argue that his previous legislative candidacy as a Democrat could hurt him.

A wild card is the hard-charging Sen. Curt Bramble — whether he gets in, or who he supports.

Waiting on Orrin Hatch. Utahns admire the venerable and powerful senator, but most would advise him to retire. However, no GOP challenger has constructed anything resembling a campaign, and time’s a wastin’. Now, 2018 campaigns are underway all over the country.

Hatch has effectively frozen the field, but World Trade Center Utah president Derek Miller is consistently mentioned as a potential candidate. He has been very visible and is well-liked among business leaders.

Hatch has told friends that if he doesn’t run, he likes Mitt Romney, Holland and Congressman Chris Stewart.

Hatch has plenty of money, enormous clout in Washington and could likely bring President Trump to campaign for him in Utah. Some of his close friends are telling him he needs to announce a decision by the end of June, at the latest. Our best guess? LaVarr thinks he retires. Frank says he’s in.

On the Democratic side, Salt Lake County Council member Jenny Wilson has established an exploratory committee.

More Chaffetz fallout. The tug-of-war between Gov. Gary Herbert and some state lawmakers regarding a potential special election to replace Chaffetz is increasing in intensity. The governor believes the current election process should be followed. Lawmakers want a special session to pass a law turning the selection of nominees over to the political parties.

Herbert and Count My Vote leaders say all voters should choose party nominees, not just party delegates who would favor party insiders. Hughes and others say they don’t want a drawn-out process that might be an advantage to wealthy outsiders.

Only the governor can call a special session and set the agenda. Do lawmakers have enough political leverage to win him over? Probably not.

Attorney General Sean Reyes. Insiders are noting that the Trump administration wants to appoint the Utah AG as the Federal Trade Commission chair. But some national organization are raising questions about contributions he received from entities under review by the FTC. Most observers believe if he gets past this bump, he will be appointed and confirmed.

The University of Utah fiasco. Question of the week: Who is Deseret News reporter Daphne Chen, and how did she get scoop after scoop on the Huntsman/University controversy? Politicos and interested consumers of these stories were surprised at Chen’s insights and access to inside information, although some are grumbling that her reports are wrong. The Deseret News is producing interesting journalism.

Next president? The hunt for the next U. president will soon begin. We expect some political and business leaders will encourage serious consideration of former Southern Utah University President Michael Benson (currently president of Eastern Kentucky University). Frank is on his cheering squad. Another possibility could be UVU’s Holland.

Legislative review. As expected, legislators are making noise about potential audits and reviews of public funding of the University Hospital and related matters. With the Huntsman Cancer Institute now reporting directly to the president, observers will be watching for any impact on other university health operations.

Two terrific politicians. Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund is one of the most decent human beings in all of politics. He underwent medical treatment several weeks ago but is recuperating. We wish him well.

Three-term Holladay City Council member Patricia Murphy Pignanelliannounced last week that she will not seek a fourth term. Pignanelli is well-known for envisioning and implementing the renaissance of wonderful restaurants and trendy stores in Holladay. Her family is especially proud of the leadership she demonstrated in securing a new larger liquor store.