2017 was quite an eventful year in Utah politics. Here’s what our “Political Insiders” and readers voted as the top-10 political news stories from the past year.
In December, President Donald Trump visited Utah to announce he was slashing the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Trump slashed nearly 2 million acres from the two monuments. He also turned Bears Ears into two smaller monuments, while Grand Staircase-Escalante was reduced into three. Rep. Chris Stewart has proposed creating a new national park in part of Grand Staircase-Escalante that was removed from the National Monument. At least five lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump’s decision.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, House Speaker Greg Hughes and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams lead out on a plan to tackle homelessness in downtown Salt Lake City. The program, dubbed “Operation Rio Grande,” was a three-part plan that increased the police presence downtown, created a “safe space” for the homeless and offered job opportunities. The program will cost an estimated $67 million.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he was resigning from Congress shortly after winning another term in office. Chaffetz, who bragged he had years of investigations targeting Hillary Clinton teed up, seemed lost after Donald Trump pulled the upset and won the Electoral College and the White House. After stepping down, Chaffetz took a job as a contributor for Fox News.
Mitt Romney is reportedly waiting in the wings to run for U.S. Senate if Sen. Orrin Hatch steps down. Hatch said earlier in 2017 that he would step aside for an “outstanding” candidate like Mitt Romney, but he has seemingly gone back on that as he said he was intending to run again in 2017.
Provo Mayor John Curtis wins the special Congressional election to replace Jason Chaffetz in Congress. Curtis handily beat both Democrat Kathie Allen and United Utah Party candidate Jim Bennett. Allen had a massive financial war chest, built mostly after Chaffetz committed a couple of high-profile gaffes. Those donations, mostly from out of state, did not translate into in-state votes for Allen, who nearly outspent Curtis, but struggled to come within 30-points of the Republican.
At the end of 2017, Sen. Orrin Hatch was able to shepherd a massive overhaul of the tax code through Congress. The plan massively cuts corporate taxes and for those at the top of the income scale, and is intended to boost the economy. Critics say the plan blows a $1.5 trillion hole in the budget and favors the wealthy over the middle and lower class.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who promised in 2012 that he would retire at the end of the current term in office, is now hinting he may run for an eighth term in 2018. Polls show that 3/4ths of Utahns do not want him to run again, but a current UtahPolicy.com survey found he would beat Democrat Jenny Wilson 50-35% in a head-to-head matchup.
The SB54/Count My Vote compromised worked as intended in the 3rd CD special election in 2017. John Curtis lost to Chris Herrod at the GOP nominating convention, but since he gathered signatures, he secured a place in the primary election where he won the Republican nomination. Tanner Ainge also used the signature-gathering route while skipping the GOP convention entirely to also advance to the primary election. For the second time in as many years, primary voters rejected the candidate that emerged from the convention with the most delegate votes in favor of a signature-gathering candidate.
Five proposed citizen initiatives are aiming to make the 2018 ballot. Proposals to boost school funding, legalize medical marijuana, establish an independent redistricting commission, have the state accept full Medicaid expansion, and alter the current dual-track path to the primary ballot, are all aiming to gain enough signatures to secure a place before voters next year. Polling shows at least half of Utahns support all of the measures.
After years of whispers and rumors, Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott resigned from office because of failing health and diminished mental capacity. Ott died shortly after leaving office.
Ott’s chief deputy, Julie Dole and his secretary/fiancee were accused of hiding Ott’s condition so that they could keep their jobs. Dole ran to replace Ott, but lost the special delegate election to State Rep. Adam Gardinier.