In Utah, Establishment Wins, Populism Loses

lavarr policy insightsAnti-establishment populism seems to be sweeping the country, and even the world. But not in Utah.

The establishment remains firmly in charge in Utah, and I believe that’s a good thing. Utahns are stable and common-sense. They seem not to be caught up in identity politics, personality politics, or anti-establishment politics.

Tuesday’s primary election demonstrated that in Utah, good ideas, good public policy, and solid experience are still valued. It was especially evident in Gov. Gary Herbert’s monumental victory in the gubernatorial primary. 

The Utah results are in stark contrast to the U.S. presidential race, where anti-establishment populist Donald Trump will soon be the GOP nominee. Obscure socialist populist Bernie Sanders, promising more goodies for everyone (paid for by higher taxes and more debt), excited millions of Democrats, especially young people. And British voters repudiated the establishment by choosing to leave the European Union. Populist politicians are on the rise in other countries, as well.

Utah had its fling with the Tea Party in 2010, amidst great anger over a national economic collapse. State convention delegates unceremoniously dumped Sen. Bob Bennett and voters eventually elected Tea Party upstart Mike Lee.

Lee has since mellowed significantly and did not face a more moderate Republican this year mostly because he convinced the Utah Republican establishment that today he’s a team player and is working to solve problems, not indulge in rash ideological crusades.

Jonathan Johnson defeated Gov. Gary Herbert 55-45 percent among more populist, arch-conservative state delegates. But Herbert, supported by the establishment, trounced Johnson in the primary election, winning more than 72 percent of the vote (with some votes still to be counted). It was clear evidence of the chasm between Republican delegates and general Republican voters. Delegates obviously do not represent Republican voters.

In Utah, the establishment makes government work. Unprecedented collaboration and cooperation have produced a strong economy with plenty of opportunities for those willing to work hard and accept responsibility.

Utah certainly faces plenty of challenges. Good governance and a strong economy are very difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain. If we coast, we slip. Education excellence, especially, needs to be the next big priority for Utah’s leaders. Business as usual won’t be good enough.

The governor and his team deserve congratulations for a big primary win in an uncertain year. The general election will feature a very scrappy, well-funded Democrat. Herbert obviously will be the runaway favorite.

It will be an opportunity for the governor to lay out an ambitious, aggressive agenda for the next four years.