Odds and Ends: What’s Utah’s Best-Read Paper?…Should Candidates Sign Tax Pledge?

lavarr policy insightsIs Trib or D-News Most Influential and Best-Read?

In his “Letter from the Publisher” published in the Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday, new owner Paul Huntsman takes a few indirect shots at the Deseret News. He calls the Tribune “Utah’s most trusted and influential news medium.” Later, he describes the Tribune as the “Wasatch Front’s most-respected and best-read purveyor of daily news and commentary.”

So is the Tribune really Utah’s most trusted, influential, respected, and best-read newspaper? No doubt, if you are a Utah liberal, it is. But if you’re a Utah conservative or an elected official, probably not so much. Which paper has the most influence in the Legislature and in the making of public policy in Utah? Probably not the Tribune.

Which is the best-read? If we’re talking about the print edition, it’s the Tribune. But the Deseret News issued a statement regarding the sale of the Tribune and noted that the Deseret News’ “daily print edition, weekly Sunday edition, related websites and apps constitute Utah’s most widely read newspaper.”

Huntsman did use a bit of nuance when in his second statement he called the Tribune the “Wasatch Front’s” best-read purveyor of news. I don’t know the breakdown of readership on the Wasatch Front and elsewhere. The Deseret News certainly has a broader worldwide audience thanks to its ownership by the LDS Church. The Deseret News has a powerhouse of websites, especially if KSL.com is included.

At any rate, I predict that with local Tribune ownership that will actually pay attention to the news content, the competition between the two papers will heat up. I’m hoping that Huntsman will be an activist publisher and get involved in community affairs.

After all, what’s the fun of owning a newspaper if you can’t use it to promote causes you believe in?

We ought to remember, of course, that Utah’s most prominent source of news is probably Facebook.

Sign the Pledge? Interest groups love to demand that candidates sign pledges for one thing or another. It’s usually a very bad idea to sign. For example, taking a pledge to never raise taxes is a dumb thing to do both politically and substantively.

Politically, candidates who put in writing that they will never raise taxes set themselves up for easy future attacks. It is inevitable that during two or four years in office, taxes will be rearranged in some fashion. Even if the net result is lower taxes, a future opponent will run ads saying the incumbent broke the pledge. If, for example, income taxes are reduced significantly, but the cigarette tax is raised a little bit, it doesn’t matter. The politician who pledged to never raise taxes will get beat up in the next election.

Substantively, to tie one’s hands by stating absolutely that no taxes will ever be raised is committing what amounts to political malfeasance. No politician ever knows what might happen. Tax adjustments are almost always necessary for good public policy at some point during a term of office.

I’m all for low taxes and limited government. I’m also for good public policy. Handcuffing oneself by taking the “no tax” pledge is dumb, dumb, dumb.

This is relevant because gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson has proudly taken the no-tax pledge and he’s accusing Gov. Gary Herbert of raising taxes. Herbert can note, of course, that during his time in the Capitol overall taxes have gone down, not up. Taxes are the lowest they’ve been in 20 years

For me, if someone makes the silly pledge, that’s one more reason not to vote for them.

Sign the Pledge II. Far right political operatives who want to maintain monopoly control of the Utah political process are not only beating up on candidates who gathered signatures to get on the primary ballot. They’re also demanding that legislative and gubernatorial candidates sign a pledge to repeal SB54, the Count My Vote compromise legislation that opens up the primary nomination process to all voters.

Jonathan Johnson has aligned himself with the far right and has signed the pledge, an action that alienates most mainstream Republicans and certainly the business community that cares about good public policy.

Here’s a prediction:  SB54 will withstand the attacks. More and more candidates will gather signatures. The far right will lose power, and voters in general will win back control of politics in Utah. The result will be better public policy in the state.

What’s more, if somehow SB54 was repealed and the repeal legislation was signed by the governor, the Count My Vote group would immediately mount another campaign to put the issue on the ballot and after the next election the caucus/convention system would be gone forever.