Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Fun With Political Speculation

OK, here’s the challenge:

Let’s say it is your job to write a weekly Friday political column for the state’s leading online political newsletter. (UtahPolicy and me.)


Let’s say that you are tired of writing about embattled GOP Attorney General John Swallow. (What more can be said about this guy until public testimony starts in the Utah House investigation of Swallow.)

Let’s say you’ve said about all you want about Salt Lake County GOP chairman Chad Bennion. (Whose become a poster boy for the guy with the sign on his back that says, “Please Kick Me.”)

So what do you do?

How about a column where in you throw some names out there and speculate what offices they might like to run for over the next four or six years?

Why not. So, here goes:

— Mitt and Ann Romney are reportedly building a big house out in the exclusive Wander Lane area of Holliday. (Or are looking to buy a big house out thereabouts.)

You can only be your party’s presidential nominee once in a lifetime. (Unless you are Richard Nixon, and look how that turned out.)

So, is there any office in Utah that Mitt Romney could possibly be interested in?

If so, it would be the U.S. Senate – especially if Republicans can win a majority in the body in the next few election cycles.

Now, Josh Romney, one of Mitt and Ann’s sons, lives out in Holladay. And it is rumored that he, also, is interested in a U.S. Senate race. But the kid is still young and he may want to concentrate on his growing capital investment firm (which Dad is helping out with.)

— Former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt is back in Utah (main residence is St. George), operating a national health care financing consulting firm.

At one time, Leavitt was seriously looking at a run for the U.S. presidency, I’m told. But such a huge effort is all about timing, and it didn’t work out for Leavitt, who is around 62 years old.

With the national Republican Party toying with becoming much more conservative/libertarian, it’s not a good fit for the relatively moderate Leavitt.

What might Leavitt be interested in? (Both he and Mitt Romney have made so much money just building their millions of dollars at their age isn’t that attractive.)

Again, it would be the U.S. Senate.

Both Leavitt and Romney could pledge to serve only two, six-year terms, moving them into their mid-to-late 70s upon retirement.

Utahns still have a bad taste in their mouths over politicians who say they will serve only one or two terms and then stay nearly a lifetime.

I think it unlikely Mitt and Mike would run against each other, they are close personally and politically – you may recall that Mitt gave Mike the in-depth task of organizing Mitt’s presidential transition, a job that turned out not to be needed.

One could run against Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in 2016, the other for the open Senate seat of retiring (is it really possible he’s leaving?) Orrin Hatch in 2018.

With good health, either man, or both, could become forces in the U.S. Senate in just a few years in office. They are smart political operatives who know how to build consensus and get things done.

Of course, every Utah Republican with big eyes for office will be looking at the next two U.S. Senate races here, including Dan Liljenquist, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and a long list of B-leaguers.

— Former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. spends most of his time out of Utah these days – although he does have a residence here.

Under the current caucus/convention system in the Utah Republican Party Huntsman wouldn’t have a chance of winning a GOP nomination for about any office – even dogcatcher.

In his brief run for the 2012 presidential GOP nomination, Huntsman was mealy-mouthed about his dedication to his LDS religion, then came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

He couldn’t have done much more damage if he’d said he hates the Utah Jazz and green Jell-O.

Huntsman, who is now co-chairman of the No Labels compromise movement in Washington, D.C., may still want to run for president again. But I don’t see him winning the GOP nomination nor winning an independent campaign effort.

Huntsman’s only chance: If an alternative route to the Utah GOP primary ballot becomes reality he may try that road to a U.S. Senate Republican nomination.

But the same-sex marriage thing will really hurt him in Utah. That’s a fence I can’t see him getting over in this family-oriented, traditional marriage bastion.

Perhaps Huntsman could try an independent run for a U.S. Senate seat here, but even if he said he’d caucus with Republicans in the Senate, I don’t see Huntsman getting enough votes in a three-way race.

— GOP Gov. Gary Herbert has yet to say whether he’ll seek re-election in 2016. Herbert won a special election in 2010 to serve out the remaining two years of former Gov. Huntsman’s second term.

Herbert then won his own four-year term in 2012.

Although it is true that Herbert likely wouldn’t have won Utah’s governorship if he’d had to seek the office on his own, without getting the leg up as Huntsman’s lieutenant governor, it’s also true that Herbert has run two impressive statewide races.

There were mumbles that a significant GOP challenger would step forward against Herbert both in 2010 and 2012 – but it didn’t happen.

Assuming Utah’s economy keeps moving ahead and there are no scandals in the Herbert administration, should Herbert decide to run again in 2016 he would be the GOP favorite.

I don’t see Romney nor Leavitt nor Huntsman wanting to be a state governor again.

Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, is reportedly interested in running for governor in 2016. She will retire from the House in 2014, giving her two years to raise money and distance herself from any political trouble the Legislature could get itself into over the following two years. (And who doubts that GOP lawmakers will find some way to screw up.)

Lockhart could be joined by any number of GOP leaders (and a few folks who aren’t GOP leaders) in looking at the governor’s race that year.

How many names should I throw out?

Merit Medical boss Fred Lampropoulos (who ran in 2004); Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem; Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan; former state Rep. Morgan Philpot; president Jonathon Johnson; and on and on.

Utah has a history of electing governors who held no public office before their successful gubernatorial runs – Democrat Scott M. Matheson; Leavitt, Huntsman, to name three recent ones.

So a new name could jump up in 2016.

Real political opportunities for Utah Democrats are limited, to say the least.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is just starting his second term. He could well decide to run for a third term (something no one has done since former Mayor Ted Wilson won three mayoral terms in the 1970s/1980s.)

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams also has just started his new job. (Both Becker and McAdams were minority leaders in the Legislature before they ran for their top executive posts.)

Either could decide to run for governor some day, but Utah hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since the late Matheson won re-election in 1980.

Rumors abound that current state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, and state Democratic Party chairman, is interested in running for Salt Lake City mayor or governor.

The state Democratic Party’s political (and often financial) backbone has for years been organized labor.

But lately the party has been swayed by loyal gay rights advocates, who are trying to extend the party’s reach by building an Hispanic wing, an interesting test since the family-oriented Hispanic community is not known to be gay-friendly.

Dabakis, independently wealthy through his art/business successes, is openly gay, the first gay party chairman in Utah.

Salt Lake City has been ranked high by various groups as one of the more gay-friendly, accessible cities in the nation – a bit of an irony considering it is also world headquarters for The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, a conservative family organization.

Could Salt Lake City elect its first openly-gay mayor?

Former state Rep. Jackie Biskupski, also gay, is waiting in the Salt Lake City mayoral wings, too, I’m told.

— The way the GOP-controlled Legislature has carved up Utah’s four U.S. House seats no Democrat (except the current Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah) has much of a real shot at winning.

If Matheson is knocked out of his 4th District seat in 2014, look for him to consider a race for governor in 2016 – with the hope that Utahns would put a second generation Matheson in the Governor’s Mansion.

Even if Jim Matheson wins a re-match with Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love next year, Matheson may call it quits after that and look for a new challenge.

Matheson’s 4th District is the most Republican district in the nation held by a Democrat; and Matheson continues having a GOP bulls-eye on his back.

Utah Democrats are always jockeying for local and legislative offices, but outside of Salt Lake County they hold no state house or important offices.

Finally, what the heck is going to happen with the Utah attorney general’s office?

I don’t see how incumbent Swallow can hold out for three more years. I believe he will be out, either through resignation or impeachment (or the odd circumstance whereby a district judge finds Swallow guilty of election finance violations and his 2012 election is set aside).

Herbert would then appoint an AG, who, depending on timing, would have to run in 2012 for the final two years of Swallow’s term, or in 2016 when that term ends.

Look for every well-known GOP attorney to try to get that appointment, including Valentine, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George; Lt. Gov. Greg Bell; and on and on.

In the 1990s two Democrats actually held that statewide seat, Paul Van Dam and Jan Graham, but no Democratic AG candidate has come close since.

So, who do you think may run for a major Utah office over the next few years? List your favorites as comments at the end of this column.