Webb’s Wrap: Huntsman says no . . . Harding won’t stay . . . moderate Republicans get money . . . time for bonding? . . . and Thomas Wright is hobbling

LaVarr Webb

Hello, Utah Policy readers. Each day I’m going to post a roundup of things happening in the political world, my observations on current issues, and perhaps an offbeat item or two.

If you have a comment, an item you think should be publicized, or just want to tell me I’m an idiot, shoot me a message at [email protected].

Here goes:

• The classy Jon Huntsman. Huntsman would have made an excellent governor. He has remarkable global experience, relationships and vision. But he made the right decision to decline the call for him to run a write-in campaign.

It would have been a bad thing for Utah politics and a win was by no means assured. I’m confident Huntsman will find very effective ways to serve Utah.


• Let the race begin. Aside from the Huntsman intrigue, the gubernatorial race has been rather quiet of late. Republican nominee Spencer Cox has avoided a lot of public campaigning, waiting for the traditional Labor Day campaign kickoff. Democratic nominee Chris Peterson has been on the attack a bit. Politically, it’s been smart for Cox to lay low during the heat of summer. But now it’s time for both campaigns to make a sprint in high gear. It’s been 35 years since Utah has had a Democratic governor, but Cox still needs to make a strong case for his leadership, vision and ability to take Utah to the next level. It will be a feisty campaign.

• Stories worth reading. Forbes magazine looks at what Utah can teach other states about surviving a recession. Utah uniquely uses an economic “stress test” to measure the state’s readiness to withstand economic turndowns and determine what resources are available to cope. The stress tests guide policymakers in making changes to deal with future crises. . . . Dell Loy Hansen will sell Real Salt Lake and other teams after “insensitive” comments about his team members refusing to play in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake (Deseret News) (SL Tribune).

Random things learned recently in various conversations and meetings (mostly Zoom).

• Justin Harding, who has done a great job as Gov. Herbert’s chief of staff, isn’t planning to stay with the next administration, even if close friend Spencer Cox wins. Harding doesn’t have a job waiting, and isn’t sure what’s next, but says it’s time for new challenges.

• The Reagan Roundtable, a group of mainstream Republicans, recently approved donations to a handful of moderate GOP legislative candidates, including Steve Eliason, Eric Hutchings, Craig Hall and Mike Winder. All are in swing districts and could be in tight races come November. The group also agreed to donate to the House and Senate leadership PACs to support Republicans in tight races.

• Prediction: The Salt Lake County mayoral race between incumbent Jenny Wilson and Republican challenger Trent Staggs, current Riverton mayor, is going to be a good one. Wilson is a solid mayor with a great political pedigree and excellent name ID. But Staggs is working hard and is a good candidate.

• An appetite exists among some state legislators for a significant infrastructure bonding program. There are reasons for that: interest rates are very low and current state debt is less than half the constitutionally-allowed limit. State Treasurer David Damschen has noted the importance of the state’s AAA bond rating. It saves the state millions of dollars in interest paid. Last spring, the state issued bonds at 1.156 interest, an almost-unheard of low rate. By contrast, another state without Utah’s enviable bond rating borrowed money at the same time – at 5% interest. Utah is conservative with bonding and should remain conservative. But now is a good time to bond and the economy needs the jobs. A number of big projects would serve the state well for decades into the future.

Parting shot: I heard that Thomas Wright, recent gubernatorial candidate and longtime GOP leader, had been injured in a motorcycle accident and was hobbling around with a cast on his leg. I envisioned him laying down a big Harley in the gravel on a sharp curve to save the life of a grandma pushing a baby stroller. So I texted him to hear the story. No such drama. He actually dropped a stationary Vespa on his foot, resulting in a couple of small fractures. No heroism, but it still hurts! On the bright side, Thomas’ real estate business is booming.