He who laughs last, laughs best.
On day one of the legislative session, House Speaker Becky Lockhart came out swinging against Gov. Gary Herbert in her opening address. She called him an “inaction figure,” pushing the narrative that Herbert was feckless, weak.
It was delicious political theater, prefacing a battle that would stretch from now until 2016.
That was a lifetime ago in the political arena.
Another lifetime ago, Lockhart proposed a plan to put technology in the hands of Utah’s schoolchildren - at a cost of $200 million. It was a bold political move that bolstered her education bonafides in anticipation of a possible run for Governor in 2016. At the same time, it put Herbert in a box. If the proposal passes, she get the credit. If it failed, she would be able to hammer Herbert for shortchanging Utah’s schoolchildren.
It was foolproof...a lifetime ago.
Now we stand at the end of the 2014 session, and Lockhart is Utah’s Ozymandius - her grand vision lies in wreckage and ashes.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Lockhart ended up with nothing. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.
She has done her best to spin the crushing defeat as a “lack of vision” on the part of Herbert. But that’s not the story that will emerge when all is said and done.
Ultimately, Lockhart’s ploy was heavy on the political and light on the altruism. When you want to be Governor, and the #1 priority for Utah voters is public education, you need to do something. Unfortunately, that something can’t come without warning in your final session on the Hill when everybody and their dog knows you’re planning on a statewide run in 2016.
But, even though Lockhart played her hand terribly, there’s a lot of credit that needs to go to Herbert in this. He proved his political acumen by neutralizing the threat - vowing to veto the measure if it came in at more than $30 million. It didn’t help that the Senate piled on, trying to force her into a tax increase to fund her project.
There’s a perception on the Hill that Herbert isn’t that smart politically. That he’s simply waiting long enough to see which way the wind is blowing before making a decision. If that’s true, somehow he was still able to outsmart Lockhart. Let that sink in for a moment.
Ultimately, she was forced to walk away with nothing. And, in the immortal words of Billy Preston, “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’. You gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me.”
The harsh reality is Lockhart may not be the only Republican thinking about challenging Herbert in 2016. While she has been rushing to get to the front of the line, any hope that her path would be a smooth one has been dashed.
The loss stings and robs Lockhart of any momentum she might have coming out of the session.
The speaker and lurking gubernatorial candidate sulks away from the Hill with nothing, while Herbert comes away from the 45-day affair stronger than ever.