I often title this annual post “David’s Handy Little Election Guide.” I thought about swapping “tardy” for “handy” this time, since I hear that more than half of you have voted already. But then I thought, this year’s offering doesn’t rise to the level of a “guide” anyway, because I’m coming late and underinformed to a number of items on the ballot. However, I have my 2020 election ballot in front of me, I’m about to fill it out, and you’re welcome to look over my shoulder for a few minutes, if you like.
Two caveats: I’m only commenting on races and issues I see on my ballot. And I’m not bothering to comment on the races which are (quite regrettably) uncontested. I’m excluding yes/no judicial retention votes too, because I don’t have much of an opinion one way or the other about any of the judges.
The uncontested races include:
- State Senate District 14 (Dan Hemmert)
- Utah County Assessor (Kris Poulson)
- Utah County Recorder (Andrea Allen)
- Utah County Surveyor (Anthony Canto)
- Utah County Treasurer (Kim Jackson)
All the unopposed candidates are Republicans, which means the races were effectively decided by delegates to a Republican convention or in a closed Republican primary. I favor closed primaries, but not uncontested races.
Actually, one more caveat: I can’t make a deep dive into each race and issue here. We’re looking at about 2,000 words as it is. You may think I lack detail and perhaps am purely reflexive or impressionistic, where your favorite candidates and issues are concerned. At best I’ll be summarizing my own thoughts, which don’t have to be your thoughts.
In the presidential race, for the first time, I’m voting for President Trump. A few days ago, I explained at length and predicted the outcome.
For US House District 3 I’m voting for Republican incumbent John Curtis. Even if he were the sort of show horse we sometimes see on our ballot, I’d probably favor him anyway, as a vote against a Democrat majority in the House. (My essay on the presidential race included a discussion of my opposition to that party in its present incarnation.) Happily, John Curtis is a workhorse, and a smart, relatively humble one at that. He’s one of my favorite elected officials.
For Utah Governor and Lieutenant Governor I favor Spencer Cox and Deirdre Henderson. I think Cox has served well as lieutenant governor, including his key role in not subjecting us to the sort of draconian government overreach a number of states have suffered. He wasn’t my first choice in the Republican primary (in which I didn’t vote, since I’m not a Republican), but he’s a good choice.
I don’t particularly dislike Democrat Chris Peterson, and I’m convinced that Utah’s perennial one-party rule is unhealthy — but what I hear and read from him on various issues strikes me as Democratic boilerplate, somewhat sanitized for Utah sensibilities. And the first place to address the one-party problem is in the state legislature, the excesses of which even Republican governors have often had to restrain.
For Utah Attorney General I’m voting for incumbent Republican Sean Reyes. I liked him years ago, when he ran unsuccessfully against an oily GOP incumbent he eventually succeeded, and he hasn’t vexed me much in his years in office. As for Democratic challenger Greg Skordas, his views, manner, and rhetoric seem to play well to liberals, but I am not a modern liberal.
For Utah State Auditor, incumbent Republican John Dougall. His politics don’t fully overlap with mine, but I’ve liked his work in the office so far. I like him personally. He listens, and you can have an extended political discussion with him, about points on which you disagree, and still be friends when you’ve finished. I’m not shopping for a new Auditor.
For State Treasurer, incumbent Republican David Damschen. He’s well regarded by people I trust, and his opponents are from the Constitution and Libertarian parties, to which I’ve never warmed.
For State House District 56, the two candidates are incumbent Republican Kay Christofferson and United Utah Party candidate Kate Walters. Mr. Christofferson has never excited me, and I have serious, ongoing concerns about the perpetual Republican supermajority in the Utah Legislature. Ms. Walters says one reason she’s running is that she doesn’t think it should be an uncontested race. I applaud that. I tried to feel some enthusiasm for her at a policy level. I really did. I wish I could say it worked. I’ve tried to like the fledgling United Utah Party too, and I share some of their concerns, but their priorities and specific solutions in areas such as government reform and education don’t speak to me. Which way to vote (or not) to vote in this race … I’ll decide before I seal the envelope, I suppose. I’m suffering a lack of enthusiasm either way.
For County Commission Seat C my choices are Republican Tom Sakievich and Democrat Jeanne Bowen. Sakievich raises a lot of “true conservative” red flags for me. (In Utah too much emphasis on being a true conservative is a bad sign, at least to me.) And he opposes Proposition 9 (see below) on terms which are at best shallow and misguided, and at worse duplicitous. This makes my question, can I vote for Jeanne Bowen? I’m underwhelmed, as I have been when she’s run before. Even her official campaign website goes only about a quarter-inch deep; how am I to know what she proposes to do about policy areas she cares enough to list there? I did see on Facebook that she voted for Proposition 9, so she has that in her favor. It’s another before-I-seal-the-envelope decision: Jeanne Bowen or no vote in this race.
Here’s a good resource for details and discussion of proposed amendments to the Utah Constitution. You’ll have to enter your address, because they’re going to show you everything on your particular ballot. It’s often interesting to see the legislative votes on these amendments; some were unanimous. And it’s good to see who’s arguing for and against them.
Utah Constitutional Amendment A to change language to gender neutral in 6 sections (of 237) where that hasn’t happened already. This “does not alter the substance of meaning” of the passages involved, and they seem to have taken pains to avoid linguistic atrocities. For.
Utah Constitutional Amendment B to define when a person must be of eligible age to be elected or appointed to legislative office. This doesn’t change the age requirement (25 years); it simply clarifies that one must be of that age when elected or appointed (as opposed, perhaps, to when one files for office or is sworn in). For.
Utah Constitutional Amendment C to ban “slavery and involuntary servitude” as punishment for a crime. This doesn’t interfere with incarceration, and the existing language bothers people. For.
Utah Constitutional Amendment D to allow municipalities (cities and towns) to provide municipal water service outside the boundaries of the municipality. This is a long-standing, widespread practice. It isn’t forbidden by the state constitution, which has some things to say about municipal water rights; this proposal is to state that it is permitted. For.
Utah Constitutional Amendment E to preserve the individual right to hunt and fish, including by traditional methods, and to establish hunting and fishing as “the preferred way of managing and controlling wildlife.” The principal argument against is that these rights are not threatened in Utah; this is a solution in search of a problem. Moreover, it smacks of micromanaging, which we ought to avoid at the constitutional level. I suppose we could hypothesize a federal threat, but federal law would supercede state law anyway. I enjoy fishing, and a lot of my friends love to hunt, but I don’t see the need to add this to the state constitution. If it looked to me like California was spreading to Utah in this way, I might worry. For now: Against.
Utah Constitutional Amendment F to allow the legislature some flexibility as to when in January to begin its 45-day general session, and to exclude state holidays from the limit. Right now, changes require a bill to be passed a year in advance, followed by voter approval in November, which strikes me as excessive. For.
Utah Constitutional Amendment G to allow income and intangible property tax revenues to be used for “supporting children and supporting people with a disability,” not just funding public education and higher education. This is a common-sense step toward solving a thorny problem in Utah: massive dedicated funds, while other important programs struggle for funding. The much-maligned, failed tax reform proposal earlier this year was an approach to this problem.
Opponents of this amendment argue that Utah ranks 51st among states (including Washington, DC) in per-pupil spending. I’ll begin to take this argument seriously when they stop excluding capital expenditures (e.g. building schools) from their numbers, to give a more accurate picture of real costs and real burdens on taxpayers. I’ll move further in that direction, when they can establish a clear nexus between per-pupil expenditures and educational outcomes. Does anyone seriously believe our outcomes rank 51st? I’m all for funding schools, and Utah’s demographics make that an ongoing challenge, but: For.
Utah County Proposition 9
Yes. Utah County Proposition 9 would change our three-commissioner county government to a mayor-council form, with a full-time mayor and five part-time, districted council members. I’ve wanted this for a long time — though I might go straight to seven or nine councilors. It’s basic American good government: separate the legislative and executive functions, which are currently combined in a system which frustrates county department heads and residents who feel unrepresented.
There’s plenty of rhetoric from the opposition, but it’s tailored to the uninformed voter. For example, they insist we already have separation of powers, because three commissioners share the combined legislative and executive power. But that’s not what separation of powers means.
It’s expanding government, they say — but in terms of costs, it’s not, and in terms of full-time equivalents, that’s only very slightly, if we read part-time as half-time. Besides, small government is only desirable to the extent that it allows for good government.
We’ll be like Salt Lake County, they say, and who wants that? But there are enough counties in the state with the proposed system already in place, who don’t have Salt Lake County’s excessive tax burdens and intrusive county government; our fate is only theirs if we chronically elect the wrong people.
The argument that this proposition will create “a county king” is risible, no matter how many fliers the opponents send out. It assumes that voters don’t know any meaningful amount of American history.
Since you’re not an uninformed voter, let’s do a little math. We’ll use round numbers.
Assume a county population of 700,000. My share of each current commissioner, in terms of representation, is 1/700,000. There are three of them, so my total representation is 3/700,000.
From one county mayor, I’ll get 1/700,000. With my district’s county councilor, I’ll get 1/140,000 or 5/700,000 — so my total representation is 6/700,000. I get twice the representation under the proposed plan than I do currently.
I’m not saying political reality strictly follows such math, but mine makes at least as much sense as the opposition’s calculations that I’ll be less represented under the proposed form.
One more look: We’ll have six county officials where we presently have three. Right now, two out of three can impose or block anything. Under the proposed system, four people will have to agree on legislative matters: either a majority of the council plus the mayor, or a veto-proof supermajority of the council, against the mayor’s wishes. Meanwhile, when department heads need everyday, operational decisions, the mayor can make them. They won’t have to shop around for two commissioners to agree.
Better representation and a more efficient adminstration add up to better government, for about the same cost. (I’m not factoring in the obvious but difficult-to-measure inherent costs of bad government.)
Lots of information in favor of the proposition is at betterutahcounty.com. The best thing I’ve seen is a panel discussion, which you can also find directly YouTube. Watching it is 42 minutes well spent. It’s moderated by Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Rees, whom you should get to know, if you don’t already. (Find her on Facebook.) The panel includes current Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, and Utah Representative Brady Brammer. They discuss practical and theoretical issues behind Prop 9.
In my view, passing Prop 9 would be a big win for Utah County, so as I said: Yes.
Don’t forget to sign the envelope before you mail your ballot. And don’t forget it has to be postmarked by Monday (not Tuesday) — unless you deliver it personally on Tuesday before the deadline. (Find local drop boxes and other information at utahcounty.vote.
One more thing. If you’re curious, I just sealed my envelope — without voting in those two races in which I said I might not.
Thanks for reading!
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