In a show of cooperation and bipartisanship, state GOP leaders and Salt Lake City and County Democrats met for two hours this week to detail the successes – after one year – of Operation Rio Grande.
That’s the multi-jurisdictional program to help Utah’s homeless, many of whom are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
In a makeshift meeting room at the Gateway Center, were Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski, sitting next to GOP House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
Also on the dais were Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat.
All was love, kisses, and congratulations, as the success stories of the operation were explained.
And this is all good.
But speaking from a purely political standpoint, having Biskupski and Hughes sitting right next to each other demonstrated the old odd couple narrative.
First off, it probably wasn’t happenstance that Biskupski and Hughes were elbow to elbow.
The two have clashed mightily several times over ORG. And the optic here was that as far as ORG is concerned, they are now on the same page.
But recall last summer when Hughes went off on Biskupski on the old KSL Radio’s Doug Wright Show, the speaker more than just a bit upset over Biskupski’s stalling over closing a section of Rio Grande Street next to the Gateway to create a “safe space” to protect the homeless from criminals.
While a show of congeniality is always welcome, in an interview on Monday – the day before the ORG event – Hughes was blunt about Biskupski’s actions both with early attempts at Rio Grande and the state’s adoption of an inland port operation on the city’s northwest side.
Hughes – as other’s have – suggests that Biskupski’s sitting out the inland port negotiations is purely a political ploy – aimed at solidifying her progressive Democratic base ahead of her re-election next year.
“And it is only going to get worse,” said Hughes, referring to the Legislature’s relationship with the mayor as her re-election campaign intensifies.
After this year’s Legislature – led by House GOP leadership – adopted an inland port law toward the end of its 45 days, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, in signing the law, said a special session would be needed later in the year to straighten out some of the city’s complaints.
UtahPolicy.com has learned that Herbert believed he had Biskupski on board for a May special session. But Herbert – who calls such sessions – had to back out of the May attempt, after Biskupski got her back up and dropped out of the negotiations at the last minute.
Hughes and other legislators then opened discussions with the City Council – where at least one member is considering challenging Biskupski in 2019.
Those meetings went well. And a July special session was called to fix many of the concerns the council/city had.
But Biskupski didn’t participate. Not one bit.
In fact, she ordered her department heads not to cooperate in any way with the council’s negotiation efforts, even to the point that McAdams had to make county planning staff available to work with the City Council in working out parts of the compromise.
“It looks like a political play” on Biskupski’s part to not work with GOP state leaders at all on the inland port, said Hughes.
“She sees her re-election” as benefiting from not “doing good work” over the inland port compromise, he added.
For her part, the mayor has maintained that the city and residents were being harmed by the inland port, the city didn’t have enough say on the port’s operating board, and the city tax base could be harmed for years to come.
Hughes says the Legislature’s cooperation with the City Council is at an all-time high – the relations between the Republican state bosses and the Democratic city a welcomed mutual trust.
It takes two to tango, says Hughes, and it is clear to him that Biskupski doesn’t want to dance with state leaders now – a situation not likely to change during the mayor’s re-election campaign next year.