Some things worth watching: Rep. Rob Bishop's next move, 1st District contenders and GOP unity

By Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb, Contributors Aug 4, 2019, 9:00am MDT

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, leaves a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards at the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 29, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Partisan politics are getting more interesting as the 2020 election year nears. Here are some of the dynamics we’re watching.

Congressman Rob Bishop will retire at the end of his term next year. What is his legacy and does his future include running for governor?

Pignanelli: “Going home (from Washington) is being rooted back in the people and finding out what they are actually saying to you. Staying away makes one squirrely.” — Rep. Rob Bishop

The real-life modern version of the 1939 movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is Rob Bishop. He was a popular high school teacher and debate coach (I first met him when competing against his students). A leader of young conservatives amidst the Reagan revolution, Bishop was propelled to the Legislature at age 27 and eventually chosen as speaker. GOP activists loved his folksy style, electing him party chairman and then nominee for Congress in 2002.

Bishop’s laid-back manner and dry wit disguises a strong grasp of parliamentary procedure, congressional procedures and American history. His love of baseball, political minutia and Diet Dr. Pepper (along with family and faith) defines him. He treasures his education background and relishes lecturing opportunities before students.

The congressman does suffer from a serious health issue — fundraising and media appearances cause him extreme physical pain. Despite these disabilities (some describe them as virtues) he scaled House leadership and passed significant legislation. He enjoys countering his local and national liberal detractors. Thus, Bishop remains popular with activists and could be a serious contender for governor.

Friends and honest critics agree — like the Jimmy Stewart character in the movie — Bishop never forgot his roots.

Webb: Bishop had a terrific congressional career. He was low-key (for a number of years he barely sent out a press release) and entertaining with his dry wit. He was a conservative stalwart on public lands and a protector of Hill Air Force Base.

Many politicians who retire at the height of their political careers regret doing so and want to get back into the action. Bishop will be tempted by the prospect of running for governor, but he has said he would have to have a compelling reason to do it.

So, here’s a compelling reason: Federalism. Restoring balanced federalism has long been a passion for Bishop. He and other top leaders I respect believe it is the solution to many of the nation’s problems, including the burgeoning federal debt.

As one of 535 members of Congress, Bishop wasn’t able to move the needle much on federalism. As governor, he would be able to rally other governors and state legislators and have a real impact.

As a young governor in the early '90s, Mike Leavitt led the most effective federalism initiative since the nation’s founding. (I don’t count the Civil War as a federalism initiative.) With the federal government in far more disarray today than in the '90s, Bishop as governor could be an effective crusader to restore proper balance in the federal/state relationship.

Bishop’s retirement creates a wide-open race to replace him. Are there any early frontrunners?

Pignanelli & Webb: Let the fun begin. The “great mentioners” are already making long lists. Viable contenders include: Davis County Commissioner Robert Stevenson, Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt, Morgan Councilwoman Tina Cannon, Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd, businessman and former GOP state chair Bruce Hough, credit union association CEO Scott Simpson, state Sens. Scott Sandall and Todd Weiler, andstate Reps. Paul Ray, Stephen Handy, Lee Perry and Logan Wilde. State agriculture commissioner Kerry Gibson is another possibility. Because of their positions and popularity, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson occupy every list.

Under the leadership of new chair _Derek Brown_, the Utah GOP is more united and functional than in many years. What does this mean for next year’s elections, and especially the 4th Congressional District?

Pignanelli: Brown brings to the chair position important and varied political experiences. These advantages fostered success toward mending party wounds and reestablishing some financial security. Therefore, the party is better positioned to focus resources on recapturing seats lost in the last election cycle. His long-term challenge is establishing a Republican Party that is acceptable to Utah voters 18-34 years old — who possess concerns with the president.

Webb: The quality of candidates remains the biggest factor in winning elections. But if Brown can reinvigorate a strong grassroots organization, the GOP could win more close races. For example, 4th District Rep. Ben McAdams won by only 700 votes in 2018. Had Republicans turned out better in conservative Utah County, Mia Love would have been reelected.

As an incumbent, McAdams will be a lot tougher in 2020. But with a unified party and an aggressive, disciplined and well-funded grassroots machine, Republicans will be better positioned to win the close ones.