A busy week in Utah politics, some thoughts on various issues.
— A much anticipated, $500,000 study on the financial feasibility of the state taking over 31 million acres of federal land in Utah was released.
The bottom line of the 784-page report: Depending on the price of oil and natural gas, and the royalties coming from such wells, the state could make $1 billion extra a year or lose $100 million a year.
Republicans want the state to control the land, mainly because it will be Republicans who decide how to manage it; while Democrats want the feds to keep control of the land, mainly because they don’t trust the Republicans.
It will likely take a U.S. Supreme Court decision for Utah to actually get the lands, promised to the state in 1896 when Utah came into the Union.
— The Utah Republican Party filed suit in federal court seeking to declare unconstitutional the compromise SB54, which come 2016 provides two pathways for a candidate to get on his party’s primary ballot.
The suit angered some Republicans, like former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt, who pushed the Count My Vote citizen initiative. SB54 was a compromise between CMV and many GOP legislators.
The state Democratic Party, now under new leadership, called a press conference to formally endorse SB54 (a little late for that) and to urge lawmakers not to change or repeal it.
State GOP chairman James Evans, who pushed the button on filing the lawsuit, called a press conference to ask why all Utahns, including disaffected Republicans who supported CMV, wouldn’t want “constitutional clarity” on SB54 – which, among other things, basically orders the state GOP to hold open party primary elections.
Republicans close their primaries now – you have to be a registered Republican to vote in their primary. Democrats hold open primaries.
— GOP Gov. Gary Herbert formally unveiled his Healthy Utah, his Obama-administration-approved alternative to Medicaid expansion.
Utah House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes, R-Draper, has already said his 63-member caucus will amend Healthy Utah, or come up with a different alternative, to the Obamacare-required Medicaid expansion.
Look for a real intra-party battle over Healthy Utah in the upcoming 2015 Legislature.
— Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker announced he will run for a third, four-year term in 2015.
City elections are officially nonpartisan. But like so many of his predecessors, Becker is a Democrat, a former Democratic leader in the Utah House.
Becker starts out as the clear favorite, over the last 30 years no incumbent mayor has been voted out of office.
A number of Democrats hoped Becker wouldn’t run again, giving them an open seat and a chance to win the office.
Still, even former mayor Rocky Anderson says he’s thinking about running again and challenging Becker.
No scandals in the Becker administration, personal or political.
Becker’s early-on stumble over wanting the new police administration building on the main city library block has disappeared, and the beautiful new building is now open for business.
Many Salt Lakers, and visitors to the capitol city, dislike the high-tech, highly screwed up, new parking meter system in the city.
But Becker says it will be fixed next year.
In any case, are parking meters enough of an issue to deny the otherwise popular Becker another term? Not likely.
— UtahPolicy reported that a freshman, Mike Schultz, will be placed on the House Rules Committee by incoming speaker Hughes.
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, this will be the first freshman on the all-powerful Rules Committee in recent times.
Half of the 75-member House will have four years or less experience when the Legislature convenes Jan. 26 for its annual 45-day general session.
Hughes, who won the speakership with the support of newer GOP representatives, says he wants to help the “youth” of the House to quickly gain responsibilities and have full participation.
Early December is supposed to be a quiet time in Utah Politics. Not this year.