A few months ago I would have bet the farm that the Utah State Prison would be moved to Tooele County. Today, I'm 100% convinced the prison is moving to Salt Lake City.
Rep. Jacob Anderegg recently said his informal polling of the members of the legislature shows there are more than enough votes to relocate the prison to Salt Lake City. While there have been vehement denials from many legislators, I buy his assertion.
A possibility I never thought would happen now looks like a fait accompli.
The Prison Relocation Commission may announce their recommendation next week, and I'll be shocked if it's not the Salt Lake City site.
When you think about it politically, Salt Lake City makes a ton of sense compared to the other options in Tooele and Utah County. Why wouldn't GOP lawmakers from outside the Wasatch Front band together to stick the facility right in the middle of an area that isn't too hospitable to Republicans?
Salt Lake City Mayor is one of the few offices in the state a Republican has zero shot at winning. Most of the Legislative seats in Salt Lake City are safe for Democrats.
Prison relocation is the ultimate NIMBY issue. As evidenced by the large crowds who have come out to protest the move, it's clear nobody wants it to move to their neighborhood. Why wouldn't Republicans shove it right down the throat of Utah's Democratic controlled capital city? Democrats could do nothing to stop it because of their miniscule numbers on the Hill.
Moving it to Salt Lake City could pay off politically for Republicans, too. Democrats are focused on winning back swing seats in Murray and Sandy. They should be very worried about the creeping Republican pickups along Salt Lake's west side. In the 2014 election, Republicans knocked off longtime West Valley City Democrat Larry Wiley and claimed the open seat vacated by the retiring Janice Fisher. Democrats also tried in vain to win back the Senate seat they lost to Daniel Thatcher in 2010.
If Republicans decide to put the prison near the airport, it could make things uncomfortable for Democratic lawmakers on Salt Lake's northwest side, specifically Reps. Angela Romero, Susan Duckworth and Sandra Hollins.
Don't think that Republicans aren't aware that the three lawmakers who would most affected by a prison move to that area are Democrats. All of the other potential sites are solidly in the GOP column.
The political math favors Salt Lake City as the next home of the prison. Democrats simply can't stop it. And, for those Dems in the districts surrounding the new facility, it would raise questions about their political efficacy. Anyone running against them could wield their inability to stop the prison as an effective political cudgel against them.
I'm not saying dropping the prison in Salt Lake City's lap would lead to immediate GOP pickups in those traditionally Democratic areas. But, at some point voters will start to question the effectiveness of Democratic legislators who were powerless to stop the prison relocation. It's a question that might lead voters to change from casting ballots based on ideology to voting for pragmatic reasons.
"Why didn't you stop the prison?" is a powerful question. The answer could be a tough one for Salt Lake City Democrats.