Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts: Utah

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.


y-intercept said...

Clearly, Republicans dominate Utah. Some may think that since Utah is the most Republican state that it should play a prominent role in defining the party line.

My observation is that Republicans in other states have a strong distaste for domination. They believe in a Republican form of government with a frequent change of leadership.

Such people feel much more comfortable having the party position defined in battleground states, or even in states where Republicans are a minority. Some of the best Republican thought comes from places like California, Chicago and NY where Republicans are largely marginalized.

Conversely, one finds that Utah is a fertile ground for defining Democratic thought. Democrats point to Utah and say the stilted homogenous culture of the state is what they stand against.

The National Republicans I know like vibrant ideas, spirited discourse and debate.

You don't get that in a place where one party dominates.

Places where one party dominates is more likely to have the form of an inner circle that dictates positions surrounded by a doltish group of wannabes who toe the line.

As you pointed out, there is a really ugly Us V. Them quality to the relation between Salt Lake County and the rest of the state.

I believe that the single party domination of the state makes it infertile ground for quality political thought and the national party is right for treating the state as that red-headed stepchild.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Aye. Many of Utah's leading elected Republicans are quite moderate, perhaps even to the point of being RINOs. Except for certain social issues and a handful of fiscal issues, they seem to line up more with Democratic ideals while supporting the national GOP.

One of the reasons a McCain win would have been nice is that Gov. Huntsman hinted that he might be considered for an important cabinet position. That would have elevated Lt. Gov. Herbert. He is a more conservative thinker than Huntsman.

Still, I'm not looking to Utah's mainstream Republicans to provide leadership or even coherent thought on where the GOP ought to be headed.