Monday, March 23, 2009

Optimism from the Left in Utah

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.


Steve M. said...

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.

I agree that there is still a substantial stigma attached to being a Democrat in Utah. A few months ago, I blogged that although Utah voters appear to be losing some confidence in the Republican Party, it is not clearly translating into gains for the Democratic Party. Rather, more and more Utah voters appear to be merely shifting into the independent (or undecided) category.

I think this has to do with the residual hostility toward liberalism (which, in Utah, is usually equated with being a Democrat). This suggests that, for the time being, the route to political success in Utah still requires having an "R" next to your name--even if your policy positions might be closer to those of a moderate Democrat.

I hope that the Democrat/liberal taboo will begin to disappear in Utah, but whether that happens anytime in the near future probably depends on the success of the Obama presidency. So far, I'm guessing that he hasn't won over many Utah Mormon voters. His "successes" have largely been in areas that most Utahans either do not feel strongly about (e.g., closing Guantanamo) or oppose (e.g., reversing Bush's abortion and stem-cell research policies). By contrast, the administration's handling of the economy (an issue that all Americans feel strongly about) has been fairly lackluster so far, in my opinion.

Unless Obama can effectively deal with the recession, I doubt that his presidency will do much to alleviate the Democrats' problems in Utah.

Jacob S. said...

You are right that Republicanism is still very much rooted in the culture in Utah, which means it will change slowly.

Even when the economy was humming and we were at peace under the Clinton years, however, it didn't matter for Utahns politically. And it doesn't seem to matter that the consensus is that the current economy has more fault in conservatism than liberalism. While practical results are important, I think it is more about mindset and whether people think it is okay to be other than Republican.

That's why I think momentum is so important for the Democratic party. It's true that more and more Utah voters classify themselves as independent then vote Republican, but that is at least something to build on, hopefully. Now is a time to be aggressive.

Steve M. said...

Assuming that Obama does manage to effectively mitigate the effects of the recession, I agree that this may not lead to increased support among Utah conservatives.

However, I'm not sure that the Clinton analogy is altogether relevant. For one, even though Clinton beat Bush in 1992, the Republican Party was in much better condition for most of the Clinton years than it is now. The Republican Party has suffered severe setbacks in each of the last two elections, and is currently undergoing a deep identity crisis. I think that, even in Utah, the appeal of the Republican Party is substantially weaker now than it was in the 1990s.

Additionally, Clinton didn't take office in the midst of the worst financial crisis in decades. Politically, the economy is probably much more important to Utahans now than it was under the Clinton administration. If Obama handles the crisis well, he (and the Democratic Party generally) stands to make big gains, especially among unsatisfied Republicans and independents.

As I mentioned in my last comment, I don't think that Obama is likely to appeal to Utah conservatives on the social issues that have traditionally had such influence over their voting patterns (e.g., gay rights, abortion). However, the economic crisis is a real opportunity for Democrats to gain credibility among Utahans.

That having been said, I agree that the biggest obstacle is perhaps Utahans' "mindset and whether [they] think it is okay to be other than Republican." Now is definitely the time to be aggressive.

Jacob S. said...

I think you're right. My point about Clinton was just that national prosperity under Democratic leadership alone just won't be enough, which we agree on.

I enjoy your blog, by the way.

Josh said...

His dealing with the economy has been "fairly lackluster?" Are you kidding me? It has been NON-EXISTENT!!!

Jacob S. said...

Josh, just because you disagree with his approach does not mean it is non-existent. We are talking billions of dollars to construction and infrastructure jobs that are ready to go and billions to banks to, to use the catch-phrase bandied around these days, "thaw out frozen credit markets," which allows money to go to small and large businesses alike which also creates jobs.

I don't know if all this will work well or not, but it is something. He's not just sitting around twiddling his thumbs.

Josh said...

No, he is not just sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He is putting us into a debt that our children's grand children will be paying for. He is putting aside money that doesn't even exist to be spent next year, mostly in markets where it will, coincidentally, I'm sure, influence the voters in 2010. He is going on talk shows and making a fool of himself, laughing at the times. He is freeing suspected terrorists, letting them back into our country. He is giving a lot of speeches that he doesn't even have the balls to come up with from his own mind. In short, he is making the appearances, but nothing is being done yet.

A few months back, he told Caterpillar that everything would be fine. Not a month later, they were forced to layoff 20,000 employees. He keeps saying he is creating jobs. Where? Certainly not in this country.

Oh, I almost forgot my favorite thing. He is allowing his talking mouth, Holder, to try to sell us on "gun control" because it will help Mexico.

People these days talk about billions of dollars as if it is an insignificant number. How many billions are we going to "spend?" You say it is going to help small and large businesses alike. I have heard only one story of money going to a bank actually turn around and help any business. NPR had to dig a long way for that story too. It was a small California town bank was able to use some of its "bailout" cash to give a loan to a homosexual-owned garden store. Isn't that a nice story? Especially since he was then able to buy some plants to sell to other businesses, and was then able to pull out of the slump and open a second store? Sweet, right? He is now in double the debt, but he is doing better, just like the country overall.

Please understand, Jake, that if I didn't respect you, I wouldn't take this time to debate with you. However, it is not because I disagree with him that I think he is wasting time. It is plain to see, it is fact. Just like I said he would be a miserable choice for President, not because he is black (or middle-eastern, or whatever he is), but because he has never done anything in his life making him worthy of that position.

So, again, I agree. He is not sitting around, he is putting on one heck of a show. Too bad it isn't amounting to a thing!