Mormons are not simply sheep following an unquestioned authority, and I refuse to believe that Utahns are either. I also refuse to believe that Republicans unerringly satisfy every political urge of Utahns. Despite my optimism, Utah is devastatingly one-party dominated.
In the 2009 legislative session, the Deseret News reports that Republicans sponsored ten out of every eleven bills passed in both houses. Democratic bills were almost universally rejected, and typically in committee without a chance for even a vote. The trend is getting worse and worse every year. For all intents and purposes, it is a Republican-only state legislature. Republicans outnumber Democrats in both houses 74-30.
The D-News also reports that the legislature has a 64% approval rating. That is a great number, to be sure, but does not square with the 90%+ domination of bills passed this session. What's more, Gov. Huntsman has a historically high approval rating of 84%. The governor and the legislature have some serious disagreements, however, and the governor seems to be winning the public relations war.
The governor has Utah involved in the Western Climate Initiative with other western states and Canadian provinces in order to combat global warming. He also is being aggressive with state resources in preserving energy. Republican legislators continue to deny that global warming even exists and are doing everything they can to get Utah out of the WCI. The governor supports gay rights and civil unions, the legislature rejected the very mild Common Ground Initiative bills that sought basic civil protections for gays. The governor supports the stimulus and will take the money offered from the Obama administration to create jobs, while the legislature opposes it and would reject that money. The governor recently made a very public point of claiming that the Republicans in the U.S. Congress were inconsequential and out of ideas. He is distinctly more left than any Republican politician in Utah, than any recent governor, and arguably just as far left than Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson.
John McCain won Utah 62-34%, in contrast to 2004 where Pres. Bush beat Kerry 72-26%. That is an 18 percent shift to the left.
Now, given all of that, and given that Gov. Huntsman has the highest approval ratings of any governor in the history of the state, a much higher rating that the legislature, I have a lot of optimism that Utah will soon start to even out. That the more centrist and left-leaning Utahns will start to have a more prominent voice in Utah politics. That this trend of complete and total control of the legislature which is at odds with the underlying sentiment of Utahns will start to reverse course. That an "R" next to a name will not mean near automatic election. That Utahns will start to demand a legislature that more closely represents their views.
This is a little ways away still, I admit. I would wager that if John Huntsman held his exact same views but was a Democrat (and he honestly isn't that far off from being a centrist democrat like Utah needs), he would be soundly defeated. He would not stand a chance. So there needs to be a significant mindset shift in Utah.
So the Democratic party has to start running candidates who are more centrist for statewide office, more like Jim Matheson, Peter Corroon, and even John Huntsman than Rocky Anderson. If they do that, then they will find that Utah democrats, independents, and disenfranchised republicans will view it as a breath of fresh air, an appealing alternative to the same old ultra-conservative Republicans they are used to voting in, feelings that Gov. Huntsman is arousing right now. We can take advantage of the shift to the left in Utah by offering candidates that appeal to their more moderate views. Ironically, Gov. Huntsman is leading the way.
There is a lot to be optimistic about in Utah politics from the left, despite the rut we seem to be in recently. It is time to dig in.