Bob Bernick’s notebook: Losing an election is tough

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Congratulations to the Utah primary election winners, especially Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox who held on for a tight win over former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman.

I predicted this one wrong (along with several other goof-ups by me). I thought Huntsman, who was slightly behind Cox in pre-primary polls, would come through with a close win — mainly because of all of the Utah voters who registered as Republicans in order to cast a GOP gubernatorial vote.

Now Cox is the heavy favorite against Democratic governor’s candidate Chris Peterson.

I don’t see Huntsman mounting a write-in campaign, although some of his supporters want him to.

Outside of any personal animosity that a Huntsman write-in campaign would bring against him, write-in campaigns just don’t work.

The late Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, thought hard about a write-in campaign back in 2010, after Tea Party GOP delegates kicked him out of office in the state Republican convention.

But it was delegates, not primary voters, that got rid of Bennett. And as an overall popular incumbent, it may have been possible for Bennett to win a write-in in the general election. Bennett wisely ultimately declined, saying it would foster too much of an adversarial atmosphere inside the Utah Republican Party.

Huntsman was defeated by GOP voters, not delegates. And so a write-in by him would just look like sour grapes; most likely not be successful, anyway.

Huntsman still has a future in public policy/advocacy in Utah, however.

None of his family members have picked up that mantle after the death of his father, Jon Huntsman Sr. Although Paul Huntsman, Jon Jr.’s little brother, is the publisher of the now-non-profit Salt Lake Tribune, and controls that paper’s editorial/opinion policy page.

Jon Jr. has the name and (likely) control of the family’s wealth and cancer-fighting endeavors.

At one point, Jon Sr. set up an independent group of Salt Lake City/County big hitters, including then-Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, a liberal, to take on various issues and civic/political problems, including a detente with leaders of the LDS Church.

After Jon Sr. got out of a brief gubernatorial challenge to then-GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter, Jon Sr. helped Bangerter with economic development in the late 1980s. So the example is there for Jon Jr. to be active after office.

And as governor, Huntsman in 2009 set up a special democracy commission to study and make recommendations on how Utah’s political system could be improved. publisher LaVarr Webb was on that commission.

But Huntsman left office to become ambassador to China (which came back to bite him in this year’s race), and Gov. Gary Herbert, who succeeded Huntsman in that high office, declined to support some of the commission’s reforms — especially campaign finance contribution limits.

Huntsman could set up a similar commission now, bring on some big-hitters (like former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt) and push for political reforms — even run a citizen initiative petition for 2022, since it’s unlikely the GOP-controlled Legislature would adopt such needed changes themselves — even though polling shows such reforms are popular with Utahns.

We could use not only campaign finance donation limits, but state office/legislative term limits, primary election runoffs/Ranked Choice Voting, reworking the signature-gathering requirements of SB54, eliminating the ability of just a few folks killing citizen initiative petitions via taking their names off of petitions they’ve already signed, giving more time to collect signatures on referendums, and a few more changes that would give Utah voters more and better elections/law-making abilities.

And after we see what the GOP-controlled Legislature does with redistricting in 2021, it may well be we’ll need a citizen initiative petition (again) on that process, too.

Huntsman, you may recall, joined the No Labels non-partisan reform national movement as a co-chairman after he lost the 2012 GOP presidential nomination to Mitt Romney, now a U.S. senator for Utah.

And we need movements like No Labels in Utah now — less party partisanship, more good government/election reforms.

It’s always tough to lose an election, especially a close one. Personal rejection is just one strong feeling.

However, sometimes a civic-minded person and Huntsman certainly is that, can do more outside of government and partisan politics — more real good — than inside, especially if the officeholder is looking over his shoulder at the next election.

The 2020 primary saw record-setting voter turnout, much of that due to Huntsman’s efforts to get more voters into the Utah Republican Party.

There is voter-involvement momentum in Utah this year, for a number of reasons. It would be a shame to waste that interest among Utah voters.