Political Odds & Ends: Benefits of Diversity…Handy’s New Book…Johnson Shoots the Messenger

lavarr policy insightsSay Thanks for a Diverse Economy. Utah’s energy industry has long given the state’s economy a nice boost.

Until recently. The Uintah Basin’s flourishing oil and gas fields have gone from boom to bust. The once-busy streets and motels in Vernal and Duchesne are much quieter.

Clearly, the oil and gas downturn has hurt Utah. But the nice thing about having one of the most diversified economies in the country is that when one sector is down, other sectors can keep the economy rolling.

Thus, Utah will weather the low oil-price storm much better than other energy-dependent states. Utah’s lawmakers had a nice budget surplus to work with in the legislative session earlier this year, even though it was smaller than the previous year.

By contrast, Alaska, with a small population of taxpayers, has a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, thanks to the collapse in oil prices, the Associated Press reports. Legislators are looking at cutting services and raising taxes. Alaska’s credit rating has taken a hit and could be further downgraded.

In Oklahoma, legislators face a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, and they are slashing education and healthcare budgets mid-year. Public schools may have to go to 4-day weeks. 

In North Dakota, Bloomberg reports the state faces a $1 billion deficit after being the economic envy of the nation for several years. North Dakota enjoyed the lowest jobless rate, the fastest-growing population and the highest increase in personal income. No more. The state’s economy is shrinking, deep spending cuts are being imposed and workers are losing jobs. The economy shrank 10.4 percent in the first quarter of 2015. Louisiana and Texas have also been significantly hurt by low oil prices.

Energy is terrific, and it will come back. But Utahns should be grateful that our economy is nicely balanced with a variety of industry sectors keeping the economy rolling, creating jobs for our young people.

Handy Man Legislator Produces Lagoon Book. Steve Handy is an excellent marketing and PR guy. He’s also a state legislator representing Layton. He’s sponsored a lot of clean air legislation. Handy is also a writer of corporate history/coffee table books that chronicle the histories of interesting Utah businesses.

One of his most enjoyable projects has been writing the history of Lagoon, the Farmington amusement park. The number of 1960s rock band that performed there is amazing. Handy has a nice profile in the Standard Examiner focusing on the Lagoon book. 

Johnson Attacks the Messenger. Responding to a Utah Policy survey showing Jonathan Johnson far behind Gov. Gary Herbert among Republican voters, the Johnson campaign issued a statement saying, “Dan Jones polling is bought and paid for by the Herbert campaign.  Thus, this poll is not surprising.”

That’s obviously a direct shot at the honesty and integrity of Dan Jones and the Utah Policy staff. I beg to differ. First of all, it’s not a good idea for candidates to issue statements that are blatantly false. It was a Utah Policy poll, NOT paid for by the Herbert campaign. Herbert and his campaign had nothing to do with it. We don’t share when we conduct polls and no campaign knew we were doing it.

Second, Jones is nothing if not scrupulously honest and careful with his polling. You don’t survive in this business for 50 years without dealing honestly with clients and the political community. One of the lovable (or annoying) things about Jones is his obsession and intensity, even paranoia, about getting demographics and numbers right and providing good data to clients.

He is scrupulously honest with the data. He’s delivered a lot of bad news to candidates not doing as well as they hoped. He reports what the numbers say. He also protects data. As a journalist, I’ve tried many times to weasel information out of him with pleading, logic and charm (such as it is). It doesn’t work (especially the charm). If there are any loose lips on the polling ship, it isn’t Dan.

It’s true that Dan has a lot of clients and sometimes does candidate work while also doing news media work. He’s done that his whole career. He’s able to do it because of his honesty and integrity. Being in the field frequently also helps him do accurate polling.

The Johnson statement also criticized Utah Policy for publishing a survey of all voters instead of just delegates. We’d love to do a delegate poll, but survey research is expensive and we couldn’t devote a poll just to delegates. We wanted to measure opinion in other races and on other public policy issues. We’ll be reporting those results in the next several days.

So Johnson didn’t like the numbers. They are what they are, and attacking the integrity of the messenger isn’t a great way to show leadership.