First came the surprise press conference during the 2017 Legislature where Salt Lake County agreed to take at least one homeless center, then Monday another surprise presser where Draper City officials said they would consider taking that shelter.
UtahPolicy likes to explain the politics of difficult public decisions, and so we look at the latest homeless siting revelations, and the political implications:
As Mel Brooks said in one of his comedic films: “It is nice to be king.”
And while Democratic County Mayor Ben McAdams will make the final decision on where to site the homeless center outside of Salt Lake City and Midvale, making him one of the kings on this difficult homeless issue, the other clearly is state House Speaker Greg Hughes.
Hughes represents House District 51 in, you guessed it, Draper.
And, sources say, he spent much of last weekend driving around his city with local officials, including Draper Mayor Troy Walker, looking at possible homeless center sites.
And if Hughes has been asking local officials to step up and help out in Utah’s homeless efforts, then his town should be included.
But both Hughes and Walker are taking political risks with their homeless advocacy.
Draper City offered two sites: One on the current state prison location, another east of I-80 on land near the large Geneva Rock quarry property.
McAdams has already identified several possible sites in West Valley City and South Salt Lake City – and officials from both entities are complaining loudly.
So to get a city (Draper) to offer two sites is politically remarkable – just consider what Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski went through in her original four-site suggestion.
Hughes wasn’t at Monday’s press conference. But his fingerprints were all over it.
Walker is up for re-election this year. And to favor two homeless sites in his city is already providing him political trouble.
The filing deadline for Draper mayor is not for months yet, and, sources tell UtahPolicy, Walker has already received blowback, with some folks saying they will run against him, others saying they will raise money for folks who run against him.
Hughes has far-reaching political hands, and you can wager he has promised to help Walker in fundraising and other campaign aid.
The political heat from homeless centers in West Valley City and South Salt Lake could fall into Utah House politics, as well.
Several of the more vulnerable GOP House seats are in West Valley City – with former GOP Rep. Johnny Anderson’s seat going to Democrat Karen Kwan in the 2016 election.
The whole Murray/Taylorsville/West Valley City area House districts were roiling in recent elections – several House Republicans actually behind on Election Night, pulling off victories only after canvasing vote-counting.
Could a Draper site help some of those struggling GOP House members?
While Hughes is safe in his District 51, Rep. LaVatr Christensen, R-Draper, won re-election by five votes last November.
So there is a lot of political risk in Hughes/Walker et al. stepping up into the homeless battles now happening.
It has not gone unnoticed that McAdams’ selections of five possible homeless center sites outside of Salt Lake City (made before Draper’s offers) are not in the heart of the 4th Congressional District.
Democratic countywide officeholders have long looked at the major U.S. House seat in Salt Lake County for a possible run – since they already have proven they can win in parts of the county.
There will be the 2018 and 2020 4th District races (with incumbent Rep. Mia Love, a Republican from Utah County) for popular Democrats, like McAdams, to take a hard look at before the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature redraws U.S. House seats in 2021.
So far, few could argue that McAdams or Hughes have been overtly playing politics with the homeless issue – although upset officials in West Valley City and South Salt Lake may disagree.
Hughes became the driving state force a year ago when few legislators were talking about the homeless being a state issue.
The deteriorating conditions around Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park and the Rio Grande area had always been Salt Lake City problems – if you will, Democratic problems.
First, the Hughes/McAdams coalition bailed out Biskupski – dropping four city sites to two.
Now Hughes/Draper seems to be at least offering a bailout to McAdams – although the two Draper sites are not as ideal as what McAdams has suggested already in West Valley City and South Salt Lake.
If push comes to shove, the state – which doesn’t have to abide by local zoning ordinances – can step in and pick the final homeless site in Salt Lake County.
But Hughes reportedly doesn’t want to do that – the city and county must continue making major contributions to the homeless settlement – as they have been — UtahPolicy is told.