The evident distrust between GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, a Democrat, was on display again Wednesday when Biskupski refused to attend a joint press conference at the Capitol over a violent protest Tuesday in a downtown office building concerning the state-approved inland port.
In her own press conference, called in the Capitol visitors’ room after the governor’s, Biskupski said she declined to meet with the governor because he was attempting a “bait and switch” over the press conference.
She declined to elaborate to reporters.
Herbert said it would be up to the mayor to tell reporters why she initially agreed to attend and speak at the afternoon press conference in the Capitol Gold Room. “We only have a hint why,” he added.
Informed of the “bait and switch” comment by the mayor, the governor’s office responded to UtahPolicy.com with this statement:
“There was no “bait and switch.” The governor invited (Salt Lake City Police) Chief Mike Brown to participate in this afternoon’s press event calling for civility in the wake of yesterday’s protests. Upon hearing of his participation, Mayor Biskupski invited herself to speak at the event. The governor was given to understand that she intended to join with him in a unified call for civility and he welcomed her to the speaking lineup.
“Mayor Biskupski then learned that Derek Miller (inland port chairman) had been invited to speak at the press conference. She refused to be at the same event as Derek Miller. The governor then invited her through staff - two times - to meet with him privately to discuss her concerns. The mayor refused to meet with the governor in both instances.”
Biskupski condemned the violent protesters’ actions and introduced her police chief, Mike Brown, who said the protesters would be identified and prosecuted.
However, questioned by reporters, Biskupski said one could say that the continued protests have “evolved” into violence through the frustration that the inland port board won’t listen to those who oppose it, something Herbert and Miller vehemently denied in their previous press conference.
And as the original, and constant, opponent of the state-created port, she likely didn’t want to be seen standing next to proponents of the port – like Herbert and Miller – and giving any indication that her opposition to it, as an entity, is waning.
Biskupski has sued the state over the port, claiming it is an unconstitutional intrusion on the city, even though the City Council passed an ordinance that she couldn’t sue over the issue. That court case is pending.
The mayor’s battle over the inland port is becoming legendary in the often-disruptive political disputes between a city boss, a Democrat, and the state, run by a Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature.
Former Mayor Rocky Anderson often had fights with GOP state officials.
Those battles softened considerably during the eight years of former Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration. Becker was a former minority leader in the Utah House and worked well with his GOP state colleagues.
Biskupski initially supported the inland port. However, GOP lawmakers made a last-minute change to the bill in the final hours of the 2018 Legislature while Biskupski was out of town at a conference in Mexico City.
Herbert reiterated in his press conference Wednesday that Biskupski at first wanted to work with him over “fixing” the inland port bill after that session, but then broke off the talks and refused to even speak with him or GOP legislative leaders.
The nonpartisan City Council (most, if not all, Democrats) stepped in and negotiated on behalf of the city, which angered Biskupski even more.
She ultimately decided not to run for re-election this year and has been taking political potshots at City Council members and the state over the inland port for months.
A situation that continued Wednesday when she decided not to attend Herbert’s anti-violent protester press conference and held one of her own, instead, where she, too, condemned the violence seen Tuesday.