Saturday, March 14, 2009

Raising a (half) glass to the Legislature

Well the hostage crisis legislative session is over, and now it is time to grade the folks on "temporarily" reside on Capitol Hill every winter.

In no particular order...

  • Liquor reform: The nation's most popular governor finally got something he wanted, an update to our liquor laws to make them more like the rest of the country. Gone are "private clubs," which were really just bars that were required by law to charge a cover fee. Ditto to the silly stickers on booze which did nothing but give you cache that you bought your alcohol at the state stores rather than smuggled it in (and cost the state $1M/year in printing costs). Same goes for the so-called Zion Curtain that made places separate their bar from the rest of their resturant with a glass wall. In exchange, there are tougher penalties for repeat DUIs and scanning of IDs of people who look like they might be under 35 (aka possibly faking). If only the weak beer rule would go away, along with the "no bar hopping" zoning rules, we would be just like everywhere else. This will be good for tourism, which in turn is good for the state's economy.

  • ethics reform: very minor improvements were made, and relucantly as well (I have to say I am dissipointed in Sen. Ross Romero (D-SLC) for putting his foot down at one year). The revolving door of legislators turned lobbyists is now delayed by 1 year...and it barely passed. Why does this matter? Former Speaker Greg Curtis is now a lobbyists for tabbacco interests, and "surprisingly" ciggarette taxes didn't happen this year, the only politically popular tax, along with a host of other anti-smoking bills.

  • The Budget: no thanks to Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz (as well as Sens. Hatch and Bennett), a half a billion dollar plug was put into the state budget from the federal stimulus package, enabling previously draconian cuts to important items like education to became more limited and precise. Still, another half billion had to be cut, meaning some government workers lost their jobs in a recession, and some good programs were harmed with the bad ones that were cut. Still, it could of been worse.

  • Tone: Sen. Bramble tried again to get back at teachers unions and the PTA for supporting the anti-voucher referendum. The anti-union bill (I think succeeded) but the PTA bill went down in flames. Sen. Buttars was an offensive moron again, but other than that, legislators got along much better and tried working with the other side in a constuctive fashion. I hear that everyone was much more relaxed and content going into the last day, and no stunts were pulled. They even ended "early," which always makes legislators less grumpy.

Overall, not as bad as it could have been, but it certainly could have been better. I still think the fiction of a part-time legislature should be ended so that the "saved by the bell" excuse will go away and people can honestly say why a bill was killed.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

AG stands for Aspiring Senator

Two years ago, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff visited my State and Local Government law class to discuss how he handled the Polygamous theocracy in Hildale, Utah and what powers the state and county officials had to reign in rouge city officials who obeyed Warren Jeffs over the law. It was an interesting talk, and I commend Shurtleff for the work he did regarding polygamists, especially when you contrast it with the heavy-handed and disastrous approach of his counterparts in Texas.

Shertleff's shtick is always "aw-chucks" country boy whose charm and false modesty is supposed to grow on you. The prior fall, he was very good at debating the other candidates for the AG position at my law school as well using that approach.

After his lecture to my seminar, there was time for questions, so I asked: "The old saying goes 'A.G. stands for Aspiring Governor'" He then chuckled, I continued, asking him if he had plans for future statewide office like Governor. He replied with some trope about finishing out this term as A.G. which would be his last and denying any ambitions for anything else.

Since he is a politician, and a pretty successful one at that, I didn't expect the truth, but I did want him on the record as pretending he didn't want to go higher than A.G.
Potential challengers from his own party have already started lining up for the 2010 race and none is bigger than Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who huddled with some D.C. fundraisers Wednesday, while in town for a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General.

"I've always wanted to serve in the Senate," Shurtleff told The Salt Lake Tribune .

The attorney general isn't a candidate yet -- at least formally. He wants to run and believes he has the makings of a formidable challenger, but isn't ready to commit out of concern for his family.

"I've still got a 12-year-old, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old. We are not going to move," he said. That means, if elected, he would have to commute back and forth each week. "Is this the right time for my family?"

He has sought advice from Utah Reps. Jim Matheson and Jason Chaffetz, who commute to D.C. during the week and fly back to their young children on the weekends.

That's right, the same Matheson that he falsely maligned back when it was politically convenient to do so. Yeah, Shurtleff is a real family man who isn't a hack, I get it.
Shurtleff said he has also done some "significant polling" and the results make him only more eager to run.

"He [Bennett]'s vulnerable. He knows it," he said.
A number of Republicans are thinking about challenging Sen. Bennett from the right, and the party's rules are kooky enough that one of them might force Bennett into a primary election. And Shurtleff would be one most capable of tacking back into the mainstream.
Beyond Shurtleff, Mike Lee, who was Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'former general counsel, and former Juab County Attorney David Leavitt, have expressed interest in running for Bennett's seat.

Originally, Shurtleff's political plan was to serve out his term and then take a shot at running for governor. But that changed last fall, when Congress passed the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, creating the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Bennett was one of the key Senate Republicans negotiating that plan.

"People are pretty upset with that bailout. Now that they know he had a role in it, they are not happy at all," Shurtleff said.

He said he also is unhappy with the way Senate Republicans operated under former President George W. Bush.

"They were just spending us into oblivion," he said.

After Shurtleff floated his name as a potential candidate, Bennett gave him a call and asked him to serve as the co-chairman of his re-election campaign.
Ah, so right-wing "populism" it is. Bennett, with his Appropriations Committee membership, has made it his job to bring home the bacon for Utah, while Hatch gets his celebrity "friends" out of jail.

While one state's bacon is another's pork, most states are want to part with their own Senator Pothole. Alaska didn't part with Ted Stevens until AFTER he had been convicted of seven felonies, and even then it was extremely close. It takes decades for senators to build up seniority on important committees like Approps. That's why Sen. Clinton is now Sec. Clinton, she wanted to be a player in the health care reform legislation but senate lions like Sen. Kennedy (class of 1960) told her hands off.

The point is, I doubt Bennett will lose. If he really was that vulnerable, you would hear talk that Jim Matheson was thinking about running. As it is Jim seems content to stay put, unless something opens up.