With the new year, Utah will see a political changing of the guard, as some longtime leaders retire. We look at who’s leaving and the impact on the state.
Orrin Hatch has been in the U.S. Senate longer than most Utahns have been alive. What has he meant to Utah for the past 42 years?
Pignanelli: “Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves.” — Orrin Hatch
As a short Italian Irish Catholic, I excel at harboring grudges. I nurture them like children. Twenty-eight years ago (I never forget), Hatch raised record contributions for my legislative opponent. After my re-election, I anticipated a lifelong grievance toward the senator. He made that impossible.
Fighting discrimination is core to my being, and I passed the first version of Utah's Hate Crimes law — based on federal legislation pushed by Hatch. An attorney for Blue Cross Blue Shield, I was integrally involved in the Caring Program for Children to provide insurance coverage for working families. I was engaged when the senator transformed it into a robust government benefit. I interacted regularly with his excellent excellent local office, which helped thousands navigate choppy waters of various federal issues.
Hatch’s advice was frequently solicited by the most powerful individuals on this planet — rock stars, CEOs, billionaires, high-profile figures. I witnessed at airports, on Main Street and other places people without money or influence encountering the senator, hoping for a moment of his time. He was always kind to these awestruck individuals, giving them equal attention as to any glitterati. This is the true indicator of outstanding character.
Perhaps because we share characteristics as political warriors, I respect and admire Hatch for never forgetting his origins and helping those who needed a voice. Our state was fortunate to have him represent us.
Webb: The long and remarkable career of Orrin Hatch is going to be the subject of a lot of praise and celebration in the next few weeks. And all of it is deserved. Hatch really has provided exceptional service to Utah and the nation.
In his seven terms, Hatch has seen it all. He’s had momentous victories and devastating defeats. He’s been acclaimed by the world’s top leaders. He’s been severely criticized by liberals, savaged by conservatives and been called names by everyone in between.
Through it all, Hatch has remained true to himself, doing what he felt was right.
To his credit, Hatch has remained a reliable conservative, but not an ideologue. His detractors on the right would argue that he hasn’t been pure enough. He’s struck deals with a lot of liberals. He has pursued the art of the possible, being pragmatic enough to understand that winning 80 percent is better than winning nothing.
But, in general, he has been a fervent advocate of limited government and low taxes. He has championed capitalism and the free market system. He has been solid in standing up for traditional moral values.
No politician is perfect. Hatch has made plenty of mistakes. He hasn’t always practiced what he preached.
It’s time for him to retire. But he will be missed. And he deserves the praise of a grateful state.
The Utah Legislature loses its top two leaders. What have been the contributions of House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser?
Pignanelli: Hughes, an early endorser of Donald Trump, is proof a disruptive force can succeed in government. Hughes’ unorthodox style prompted a turnaround in the Rio Grande area, pushed needed compromises on medical marijuana and passed various reforms.
While Niederhauser is more reserved, his influence was dramatic. Advances in government transparency, efficient transportation and broad economic development will be felt for decades. Furthermore, reforms in higher education and taxes will be ongoing because of his original involvement.
Webb: Serving in the Legislature can be a real sacrifice, especially for the top leaders. They essentially spend full time in their legislative duties and earn much less than part-time pay.
Niederhauser will be remembered for his solid, steady leadership guiding the Senate. He has always looked to the future, emphasizing infrastructure and preparing the state for rapid growth. He has been the embodiment of the Senate as a “voice of reason.”
Hughes will be remembered for his hard-charging forays into big issues like homelessness and the inland port — accompanied by plenty of controversy. He’s stepped on quite a few toes and made some missteps but has been effective and more nuanced than his label as a far-right conservative might indicate. Hughes isn’t riding into the sunset. We’ll see more of him in the gubernatorial race.
A number of lower-profile politicians will also be retiring. Which are some who will be missed?
Pignanelli: My children attended public schools but participated in innovative programs developed as a response to charter institutions. Utah enjoys a diversified economy because of various tax incentives. Government overregulation and overreach are checked by legislative committees. Sen. Howard Stephenson played a leading role in all these efforts, benefiting millions. Thank you.
Webb: All those leaving the political arena deserve a heartfelt thank you for their service.