Private lives and public policy

family beach sunsetA note to members of the Utah Senate and House of Representatives from Paul Mero, president of Sutherland Institute:

As I write this, I recognize I’m addressing a diverse audience. I recognize some legislators know me well, even personally. Other legislators don’t know me at all. I realize some legislators have high opinions of me and that other legislators have very low opinions of me.

Regardless of how well you know me or like me, we both have one thing in common: public policy. Creating public policy is what you do as legislators; and designing, shaping and influencing public policy is what my colleagues and I do at Sutherland Institute.

While I certainly look to be respected by legislators professionally – and I certainly want Sutherland Institute to be respected – I’ve never thought that my professional opinions would be considered more or less correct based on how well a legislator knows me personally. I believe a good idea is a good idea regardless of the messenger – although some messengers obviously can do the message harm.

To be more precise, I’ve never had the thought that if only a legislator really knew me personally, he or she would certainly know how serious, credible, passionate and thoughtful my opinions really are about the causes and issues I promote, let alone the correctness of my opinions.

My personal life and experiences are lessons to me, for sure. But I’ve never had the thought that my personal life and experiences make my professional public policy opinions any more or any less correct in the minds of policymakers. Read more

Stay outta my way!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zALxe1KBXro&feature=youtu.be

In this video clip from Sutherland’s 2014 Legislative Policy Conference, Paul Mero asks two supporters of the Count My Vote initiative, LaVarr Webb and Kirk Jowers, whether they would drop Count My Vote if all their concerns were addressed – short of getting rid of the party caucuses.

The response was noncommittal. Webb, for instance, said, “It would be difficult to stop this thing at this point. … I haven’t made my mind up on that.”

Since then, Senator Curt Bramble’s bill, SB 54, which concerns itself with such election reforms, has been approved unanimously by the Senate Business and Labor Committee. Click here to read Count My Vote’s response to the bill. (Spoiler: They’re not thrilled.)

Count My Vote supporters don’t know when to call it a win

Rocky_victoryCount My Vote is not an issue high on the priority list for Sutherland Institute, and yet, it inexorably draws my attention. I’m stunned when the “reasonable” people – normally the adults in the room – behave like spoiled children. Count My Vote is a case in point.

The Utah Legislature is considering a bill by Senator Curt Bramble, SB 54, to implement Count My Vote reforms while holding onto Utah’s caucus and convention system. The Count My Vote initiative would make that system irrelevant by replacing delegate candidate selection with direct primaries. Supporters of Count My Vote cite several reforms that lead them to champion direct primaries. SB 54 addresses each of those reforms and defaults to direct primaries, if political parties fail to adopt the reforms. In other words, SB 54 gives Count My Vote supporters the victory they seek – SB 54 extorts desired reforms among political parties at the threat of exposure to direct primaries. It’s easy to understand.

You would think Count My Vote supporters would call it a win and go home. But not so. Unbelievably, these supporters actually take umbrage at SB 54.

In the Deseret News, LaVarr Webb expresses his opposition to SB 54. He calls it a “clever” bill designed to “destroy” the Count My Vote initiative. In the initiative’s defense he writes,

Count My Vote’s proposal asks voters to choose whether all voters, through a direct primary, have a voice in selecting party nominees, creating broader participation in our political system, instead of continuing to centralize power in a select few caucus attendees and convention delegates, many of whom do not reflect mainstream Utah positions.

He italicized the word all. Admittedly, I’m not a political process geek. I don’t know the stats for voter participation – and, as I’ve mentioned in front of Count My Vote supporters, voter participation is not my definition of responsible citizenship (I’ll say it again here: I’d like more intelligent, informed and principled voters, not just more voters). So I wasn’t aware that all voters participate in direct primaries. Common sense tells me that’s not so, but I’ll try to verify that point made by LaVarr. My guess is that he’s wrong about that point.

Neither am I an expert about Utah’s historic caucus and convention system, so I’m not quite sure about LaVarr’s concerns about voter participation, unless his true goal is to get rid of political parties altogether. Based on my own experiences, I think Utah’s political parties and the caucus/convention system permit any registered voter to participate in these party processes. The reforms in SB 54 remind us that some people have a more difficult time physically participating than others. But nothing in our current processes excludes the participation of any registered voter who identifies with a political party.

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Cuomo’s intolerant remark emblematic of 'progressive tolerance'

Andrew_Cuomo_by_Pat_Arnow

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (photo by Pat Arnow)

Last weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made some comments regarding those whom he disagrees with politically and philosophically, which have gotten him in trouble. Specifically, he said (taken from an open letter written by the governor’s office):

 You have the Republican Party searching for identity; they are searching to define their soul. That is what is going on. It is the Republican Party that is it a moderate party or is it a conservative party? [sic] That is what they are trying to figure out and it is very interesting because it is a mirror of what is going on in Washington, right? The gridlock is Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It is more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans. And a moderate Republican in Washington can’t figure out how to deal with the extreme Republicans. And the moderate Republicans are affair of the extreme conservative Republicans in Washington in my opinion.

You’ve seen that play out in New York, their SAFE act, the Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act. It was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate. Their problem is not me and Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro assault weapon, anti-gay, is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.

Clearly, he limited his initial comments by addressing both intra- and inter-partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C. But as he turned his attention to his own state, he broadened the scope of his remarks to address those who simply disagree with him (“extreme conservatives”), rather than just his political opponents (Republicans).

And what did this “tolerant” progressive/liberal have to say about those who simply think differently than he does? “They have no place in the state of New York.”

This comment is emblematic of the progressives/liberals’ definition of “tolerance,” which means tolerance for those with different looks and lifestyles, and intolerance for those with truly different ways of thinking.

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Lively debate over caucuses and Count My Vote at SI event

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Audience and panelists at Sutherland’s Legislative Policy Conference on Jan. 15 at the state Capitol.

Sutherland Institute held its annual legislative policy conference yesterday, which included a rousing debate on the caucus convention system and the Count My Vote ballot initiative drive. KNRS’s Rod Arquette moderated the panel, whose participants included Sutherland’s Paul Mero; James Evans, chairman of the Utah State Republican Party; LaVarr Webb, president of The Exoro Group and member of the Count My Vote board; and Kirk Jowers, president of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and Count My Vote board member.

One of the panel discussion’s early questions was centered on voter participation. While the Count My Vote panelists sparred with Evans over what Utah’s voter turnout is attributable to, Mero turned the question on its head, saying he was more interested in quality over quantity. To get the best government, we need an engaged, informed citizenry who care about the common good. The issue shouldn’t just be how do we get as many people as possible to vote, but how do we get citizens engaged in the process. When questioned about low youth turnout, Mero said that young people are less inclined to attend caucus meetings because in the aggregate they are less interested in or have a complete understanding of the common good.

A Sutherland guiding principle is Responsible Citizenship, and that should be the purpose of any proposed reforms to Utah’s election process. The answer isn’t simply to drag people to a polling location, but to have a system which incentivizes a responsible citizenry. Sutherland does not believe the Count My Vote reforms will result in increased civic responsibility or involvement, so it does not support the initiative.

But there are practical realities to the caucus system that need addressing. As the panel discussion continued to revolve around involvement in and access to the voting process, and amid allegations that the caucus system is elitist, Mero asked if there is an adult citizen in Utah that is excluded from the system. Jowers responded that the groups most likely to be unable to attend caucus meetings are military personnel, single mothers, missionaries, and business travelers.

Evans noted that the state party has instituted absentee voting for the caucuses, so now everyone with a desire to be involved has the ability to do so. There are other reforms which will make the process go faster, so even more people will be able to attend without it interfering with other commitments.

Mero then asked Webb and Jowers if, should their complaints with the current system be resolved, they would then drop their efforts to scrap the system in favor of their new Count My Vote proposal. Webb responded that they have a number of supporters and he can’t speak for everyone.

A culture of corruption in Utah

darkcloudsThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

As the John Swallow scandal reveals more and more culture of corruption within Utah’s Attorney General’s office, I am left with a few impressions.

While not surprised, I’m shocked how human beings consistently underestimate culture in their daily lives. If we were talking about Utah liquor policy I could point to a culture of drinking. If we were talking about the welfare state I could point to a culture of dependency. We know what theses cultures look like when we see them. In the John Swallow case, we’re dealing with a culture of corruption. It’s harder to see until the curtain is pulled back, but it’s there, and it controls Utah politics today.

I’m not saying that every individual Utah politician is corrupt. I am saying that Utah politicians, by and large, probably don’t even know if they are acting corruptly. A culture of corruption is subtle and deceiving by nature. Everyone knows a bribe when they see it. But how many of us know a bribe when it’s wrapped in a government contract?

Here’s the thing: We do know. It’s not like Utah’s politicians are idiots. They are some of our finest citizens. But I am sick and tired of watching Utah politicians compartmentalize and ignore their integrity. A culture of corruption will most assuredly destroy the integrity of even our finest citizens. And it’s not just politicians – I see way too many citizens groups affected by this same damning culture. On the right, bad things happen in self-righteousness. On the left, bad things happen in unrighteousness.

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Bright, principled Sen. Lee makes the establishment cringe

Photo: Hannibal Poenaru

There’s a lot of hostility toward Mike Lee from the the Washington and Utah Establishment. (Photo: Hannibal Poenaru)

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Just when I complimented my friends at The Salt Lake Tribune for being authentic for owning the cause of anything other than Mormon and Republican in Utah, they have to go and act like their journalistic editorial standards trump their politics – which is, of course, nonsense. When the Media Research Center in Washington, D.C., cited dozens of reports and editorials issued by the Tribune painting Utah Senator Mike Lee negatively throughout the drama over the shutdown of the federal government, the Tribune balked.

But why take umbrage? The Tribune editorial team has no affection for Senator Lee’s politics – everyone knows it. Is it likely that its editorial tone might influence the type of stories the Tribune produces about Senator Lee? Of course! I’m not questioning their reporting. I’m just saying that it is ridiculous for the Tribune to act like the stories they choose to focus on don’t project its bias. Well, if the Tribune thinks the news is a crazy Utah senator shutting down the government, that’s what its news will be – and you won’t read other reports in its pages about how the Democrats gamed the whole thing.

But there’s more to the attacks on Mike Lee than just whatever the Tribune chooses to report.

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The know-nothing president

The bastion of right-wing loonery known as “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” is finding it difficult to buy President Obama’s standard crisis communications line of, “I found out about it when you did.”

This past Monday, Stewart lampooned the president’s claimed ignorance of the looming problems with Obamacare and the NSA spying scandals.

But these are just the latest examples of President Obama’s “I know nothing” crisis strategy. Back in May, Stewart took issue with the line as it was used on the IRS, Fast and Furious gun trafficking, Air Force One Manhattan flyover, and the AP and Benghazi scandals.

 

America, you have a president who is completely ignorant about the most critical issues facing our country. Or, you have a president who cannot be honest with you. Which do you prefer?

Friends (yes!) in politics

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

friendsPolitics certainly creates strange bedfellows. Over the span of my career I have made very special friends – and, in an era of government shutdowns and hard feelings, I thought I’d share with you a few surprising people in Utah politics who I happen to like.

Few people agree 100 percent of the time, so I get bored quickly with those who introduce odd friendships by saying, “Now, I don’t always agree with him. …” But it seems obligatory to say, so here you go: I don’t always agree with these people but I do admire, respect or simply have a soft spot for them. I take their calls and I enjoy being with them. We don’t necessarily socialize but when I have time to grab a meal with them or work on a project with them, I do. I just like them.

I also should add that these people might not feel the same way about me! Just because I like them doesn’t necessarily mean they like me. So while I don’t want to speak for them, I do think it’s important for responsible citizens to know that people of all stripes can effectively work together.

One of my special friends is state Senator Luz Robles. She is many things I’m not – female, Hispanic, liberal and a Democrat. But, as fate would have it, I had the chance to work closely with her on state-based immigration reform. She is bright, charming and dedicated to her causes. Moreover, she is humble and has a great sense of humor.

On the Republican side, I like Governor Gary Herbert. Not only does he genuinely love Utah, he wakes up every morning wondering what new friends he’ll make that day. He has a core decency and goodness that is palpable. He has gut common sense that cuts through most nonsense. I’ve worked for politicians and, as a reformed Hill rat, I can tell you Governor Herbert is the kind of politician you’d want to work for.

It’s not surprising that many of the politicians for whom I have a soft spot aren’t always that easy to get to know.

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When spoiled children decide elections

Drawing_of_Children_FightingThe following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Only eight months ago we were talking about the threat of budget sequestration – a dramatic showdown between congressional Republicans and Democrats, including newly re-elected Barack Obama. I mentioned then how the sequestration battle reminded me of the confrontation in 1995 between the new Republican congressional majority, led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and a weakened mid-term President Bill Clinton.

We know how that stalemate ended. Republicans lost and the “Gingrich revolution” died an ignominious death.

Today, House Republicans are insisting that Obamacare be defunded. They sent the Senate an appropriations bill funding everything except Obamacare. The Senate, with a determined President Obama in the wings, has refused to accept the House proposal. If the Obama presidency is about anything, it is about complete and unfettered socialized medicine. Come hell or high taxes, the Obama legacy will be a single-payer medical care system. He and his Democrat ideologues will never relinquish the great progressive cause of the new millennium.

We knew what would happen before it even started – House and Senate Republicans will fold like lawn chairs. Libya doesn’t matter. Syria doesn’t matter. The NSA doesn’t matter. Nothing will save the Republicans in this standoff.

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