Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Huntsman’s new job, Trump’s speech and CMV initiative

Both local issues and international affairs are important to Utah. We take a look at some of them.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is poised to become ambassador to Russia. What is the impact on international, national and local politics?

Pignanelli: "Diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest things in the nicest way.” — Isaac Goldberg

As a heathen Gentile who grew up in Zion, I can state that Mormons cannot help but be great diplomats. Most spent two years in other parts of the country and world — not as occupiers — but persuaders. They comprehend that each society (especially in Utah) has a unique way to "do business." Reared in Utah's passive-aggressive culture, LDS adherents are rarely confrontational but achieve their ends through subtler means (a skill needed by ambassadors).

Huntsman possesses these talents on an exponential level. Former ambassador to China and Singapore, no one is better suited to demonstrating strength while maintaining communications with the Russians. This assignment in Moscow keeps him relevant and could lead to an eventual appointment as secretary of state.

Although not yet 60, Huntsman has an impressive resume. The Obama campaign feared him as a potential opponent in 2012. Every day that goes by, there are more Republican millennials who will identify with Huntsman than almost any other politician. Very charismatic and clever in social media, Huntsman is also viewed as outside the establishment (a valuable commodity in 21st-century politics). Huntsman will be on a short list for national office in 2020.

Huntsman will demonstrate a successful, and global, application of the “Utah Way.”

Webb: Huntsman will be a terrific ambassador in this enormously sensitive and important position. But it will be difficult even for this consummate diplomat to navigate the world of President Donald Trump. Huntsman must avoid being undercut by wee-hour tweets and inconsistent administration signals. Can Huntsman condemn Russia’s aggression and incursions into the rights of other countries if Trump periodically tries to cozy up to Vladimir Putin?

Still, if Huntsman performs well, he might be in a position to take over for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once Tillerson is inevitably fired by Trump or he tires of fronting Trump’s erratic foreign policies.

Locally, this appointment eliminates Huntsman as a potential challenger to Sen. Orrin Hatchin 2018, or to whoever runs to replace Hatch if he retires. That’s good news for Mitt Romney.

Utah is a state with healthy international trade and strong relationships with people in countries across the world. Did President Trump’s tough talk at the United Nations last Tuesday help or hurt Utah’s international interests?

Pignanelli: Hello!!! Is anyone paying attention? "Rocket Man" sent two missiles across Japan — an incredible and frightening event. I appreciate Trump inherited this problem and enjoy his creative chest thumping. But he has to apply action, or other nut jobs will think they can intimidate without ramifications. There needs to be severe economic sanctions (with rigorous penalties for noncompliance) that squeeze North Korean ruling families. This will impact Utah’s international, American and European interests in the short term but deliver long-term benefits.

Webb: I admit the nationalist in me liked a lot of Trump’s speech. It was nice to see a president stand up unapologetically for America’s interests and bluntly call out some of the world’s dictators. Trump received harsh criticism from liberals for some of the speech’s more memorable lines, but in reality it was a nuanced speech. Anyone who listened carefully found points to both love and hate. Some analysts said it was clearly written by committee, alternating between tough talk and lofty rhetoric worthy of a world statesman.

It is certainly in Utah’s interest for the world to be a stable place bolstered by free trade and positive international relationships. It’s too early to measure whether Trump’s foreign policy will move us in that direction or not.

Is the new Count My Vote ballot measure to create a direct primary election system for Utah really needed? Or is it best to leave the existing CMV/SB54 compromise in place?

Pignanelli: Maybe I am old school, but I adhere to the principle "a deal is a deal." Factions within the GOP challenged the law and House Republicans sent a “message vote” to eliminate it. Notwithstanding, the Legislature has upheld their bargain with CMV advocates. Results of recent races will compel most candidates to pursue the signature route with or without attention to delegates. I encourage CMV to have thoughtful second thoughts before acting.

Webb: I would have been happy with the SB54 compromise if assured it would remain in place. But with an ongoing lawsuit and continued attacks by elements of the Republican Party and the Legislature, it makes sense to ask Utah voters, once and for all, if they want a party nomination system that allows all party registered voters to have a voice, or if they want a select few convention delegates to control the nomination process.

A change to a direct primary system would not be a radical step. It’s the process used by almost every state in the country, providing opportunity for maximum voter participation. And by fixing a few glitches in SB54, the proposal would create a model system to nominate political party candidates.