Bob Bernick’s notebook: Two birds, one stone

Bernick Mug 01

I write today to point out some of the interesting behind the scenes connections between state House and Senate members with the current four-person GOP race for governor.

First, let’s start with House GOP leadership and some of the criticism of GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and his hand-picked successor, Lt Gov. Spencer Cox.

Then we’ll move over to the Senate, and some of the interesting connections between Cox’s campaign and Senate make-up.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville; Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton; and Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper; all support former House Speaker Greg Hughes in the governor’s race.

That makes sense, Hughes mentored all three current House leaders, especially Schultz. As a freshman, Hughes put Schultz on the powerful House Rules Committee, where Schultz built internal GOP caucus friendships that led to him winning a leadership position after being in the House just four years, a remarkable achievement.

Schultz, who has done very well for himself financially building homes in northern Utah, has donated $190,000 so far to Hughes’ campaign. That’s a lot of individual giving in a statewide race.

Wilson, who served in House GOP leadership when Hughes was speaker, is also a northern Utah homebuilder, and he has given Hughes $15,000.

Gibson has not donated to Hughes’ campaign but told that he supports the former speaker. Gibson added (during an interview in the 2020 general session) that House leadership has gone out of its way NOT to make any decisions that directly helped Hughes in the governor’s race.

But politicians are happy to use the old “two birds with one stone” axiom — if you can do something that is right for your constituents AND help out a political ally, all the better.

Now, Schultz and Wilson are big players in the homebuilding world, and not so long ago Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, was hired by the Northern Wasatch Home Builders Association, which Schultz and Wilson are active in, as its executive director.

And and other media have reported how Ray has been one of the most open critics of the Herbert/Cox administration’s lockdown of the state economy over the coronavirus.

I’m not saying that Ray, who is actually a good guy, is doing anything in his criticism of Herbert/Cox that he, Ray, doesn’t believe in. Still……the connection is there.

Media reported that in June legislative committee meetings, there could be a House/Senate hearing on how the Herbert/Cox administration came to buy $800,000 worth of a drug that was rumored to help coronavirus patients, but turned out not to be effective — a hearing put forward by one of the House leaders on the joint committee.

To the second point, Senate connections to the governor’s race are more familiar and nuanced.

Cox is the brother-in-law to Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork. Of course, McKell supports Cox in the governor’s race, only to be expected.

Cox picked Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, to be his LG running mate, causing Henderson to retire out of her Senate re-election this year and opening the seat.

You notice two folks above with “R-Spanish Fork” after their names.

Yep, McKell got out of his House District 66 re-election race and jumped into the now-open Senate District 7 race. McKell won the nomination at the Utah County GOP Convention, getting more than 60 percent of the delegate vote. He’s effectively in the Senate, having only a third-party candidate in the general election whom he will easily beat.

I’m not saying Cox picked Henderson as his LG candidate to advance his brother-in-law to the state Senate. Henderson is a smart pick for any of the gubernatorial candidates. She no doubt helped Cox among Utah County delegates to the state convention, where Cox/Henderson finished first.

And McKell, a good politician, still had to win the GOP nomination in a crowded Senate 7 District convention.

Still, two birds……

Now, Hughes has been unique, so far, in taking out after Cox politically. Hughes sent out some hard-hitting mailers against Cox, touting Hughes’ strong support of President Donald Trump and listing some Cox comments critical of the president before Trump won the GOP nomination back in 2016.

But House GOP members have been much more critical of Herbert/Cox over the handling of the coronavirus than have GOP senators. Just saying…..

Another layer: Republican gubernatorial candidate Aimee Winder Newton, a Salt Lake County Councilmember, lost her bid in the state GOP convention. But before the convention she picked GOP state Auditor John Dougall as her LG.

Since the Winder Newton/Dougall ticket lost in the convention, Dougall can stay on the ballot for auditor re-election. And now Dougall is conducting an independent audit of the coronavirus drug purchase — which likely will be finished before the June 30 GOP gubernatorial primary election. And how will that report implicate Cox?

Herbert tapped Cox to be his administration’s boss in the coronavirus state fight. Cox has basically stopped campaigning and is a high-profile coronavirus leader, at many of the daily state televised press conferences, etc.

Will Hughes, or any of the other two GOP candidates, go after Herbert/Cox over the coronavirus economic shutdown, or the failed virus drug state purchase?

Remember, House Republicans in an April special session approved not only the $800,000 drug purchase, but put aside $8 million in taxpayer funds for future anti-viral drug purchases/remedies.

And, now, it appears that Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, was instrumental in pushing the Herbert/Cox administration to spend state funds on the drug buy. (The state got the $800,000 back, but still a stink all over this.)

Will the Senate want to investigate the buy, which could blowback on their own leader?

Political wheels within wheels. Stay tuned.