Almost nothing has changed in Utah. The state’s top offices are still held by GOP officials, all elected by large margins. Governor Huntsman sees his landslide victory as a mandate for his big government agenda (see SL-Trib article). And you know what? He’s right. Utahns will get what they voted for. That doesn’t mean that I have to like it.
The biggest change is that Utah’s Speaker of the House, Greg Curtis (R-Sandy) lost to his three-time opponent Jay Seegmiller, who lost to Curtis two years ago by only 20 votes. Curtis’ comments quoted by the SL-Trib suggest that he became so involved in house leadership that he lost sight of his district’s constituents. Any lawmaker that does this deserves to lose.
This reminds me of four years ago when former Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens (R-Farr West) ran for the GOP governor nomination. He had a well funded and well organized campaign. But almost all of his campaign materials featured political insiders tooting his horn. He had many politicians and political wonks backing him up. Unsurprisingly, that message didn’t appeal much to most GOP voters.
While the balance of Republicans and Democrats in the state senate remains the same, Democrats lost their only senate seat outside of Salt Lake County (see D-News article). Democrats picked up two net seats in the Utah house, so they will lag Republicans by only 22-53 instead of 20-55. But they gained three seats in Salt Lake County and lost one seat in Weber County.
What this really looks like is that Salt Lake County has become more Democratic (especially on the East side) and the rest of the state has become more Republican. I’m afraid that fosters a very us-vs-them attitude. Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland’s comments comparing Salt Lake County favorably with Denver and Las Vegas might sound good to county Democrats, but talk like that will only alienate most of the rest of the state.
Months ago when Mitt Romney bowed out of the presidential race, many Utahns vowed to never support rival John McCain’s presidency. I predicted then that most of these people would eventually vote for McCain and that some would do so enthusiastically. Well, Utah was McCain’s third most reliable state (with 63%), behind Oklahoma (66%) and Wyoming (65%). For an understanding of why Utah’s Romney supporters ended up shifting solidly to McCain, see the human nature discussion in my recent post on third parties.
Despite how virulently a vocal core rails against Utah being heavily GOP-controlled, most Utahns see no home in the Democratic Party for reasons I discussed two years ago. If anything has changed since that time, it is that Obama’s campaign went too far portraying him in a messianic role. Frankly, most strongly religious people don’t see a need for a fallible human savior, especially one with the kind of leftist leanings Obama has exhibited.
Being heavily Republican, however, Utah will now be given red-headed stepchild status by the Democratic power brokers inside the DC beltway. All the while, Utah will continue to be marginalized by the GOP because Republicans are required to do nothing to keep Utah faithful to the GOP.