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More Dogs on Main

I’ve been an unabashed advocate of throwing all of Congress out of office, if not into some kind of Gitmo situation. Things are not going so well, and it’s about time that somebody is held accountable. If Congress is not responsible for the runaway budget imbalances, and the general failure to supervise everything from the banks to the oil drillers, it’s hard to know who is. Their job is to mind the store, and they haven’t been doing it.

It sounds like a good idea until somebody actually throws a bum out. It’s one thing to throw them out, and quite another to choose the replacement. That’s where it gets interesting. The state Republican party has thrown Bob Bennett under the bus. He didn’t even make it into the primary. Bob Bennett was "too liberal" for the Utah Republicans. Yikes. Bennett is a very conservative guy. He’s also really boring and could go for weeks without a mention in the news. But he was not conservative enough for the party wing nuts who control the convention.

So a three term senator, whose election seemed like a lifetime appointment he won the last election without a campaign is out. Bennett has been a Washington insider since the Nixon years, working in different administrations and working as a lobbyist before being elected to the Senate. In the current frame of mind, that’s too much.

The same thing happened on the Democratic side, though with a little less finality. Jim Matheson, who represents the gerrymandered district in Salt Lake, will have a primary with unknown Claudia Wright. In Matheson’s case, it was the liberal wing of the Democratic party that was out to get him. He has a voting record that is pretty much down the middle. When votes came along that went to the core of the Democratic platform, like the health care reform bill, Matheson could always be counted on to vote with the Republicans. So the liberals have had enough. They are willing to risk losing the seat to a Republican on the premise that it couldn’t be any worse, given Matheson’s record.

On the local level, State Senator Mel Brown will be forced into a primary, again because a more conservative candidate appealed to the Republican convention delegates. It’s hard to imagine anybody being more conservative than Mel Brown. The pattern is playing out all around the country, with an angry populace punishing incumbents at all levels of government. Lord knows they have it coming.

But when it comes to replacing them, instead of people with common sense and a practical approach to solving problems a move to the middle we’re going bi-polar. At a time when the biggest problem in Washington is people clinging to extreme ideology, instead of looking for pragmatic solutions to some urgent problems, we apparently are going to solve it by electing a bunch of ideologues (on both sides) who would rather see the house burn to the ground than compromise on a plan to put the fire out. Something tells me this isn’t going to work out well.

The nomination process in Utah is almost designed to guarantee a choice between two major party candidates who are at the insane edge of their respective parties. The nomination is made by delegates at the parties’ conventions. The delegates are elected in neighborhood caucuses, attended by only the most committed, flame-throwing members of each party. The caucuses elect somebody willing to put in the time to go to the state convention. So a tiny, passionate minority goes to convention to choose a candidate who fires up their passions the most.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of normal people who show up and vote in the elections, and pay some attention to what’s going on, but never go to the caucuses, have no say in the candidate selection. Yes, it’s their choice (and mine) to avoid the caucuses, and the idea of going to a state political convention is just repulsive. In the end, the few who show up will have narrowed our choices in the final election to people we really don’t like. There’s a real chance that Jim Matheson will lose the primary. Some Republican activists are urging the Republicans to vote for Wright in the Democratic primary because they think she is a weaker candidate, setting up a general election between Wright and the Republican nominee, Morgan Philpot. My guess that neither one of them would have been on the ballot if the nominations came from a broader spectrum of the voters than the folks at the two party conventions.

In the end, the voice of the middle isn’t heard, and the general election choices will both seem unacceptable. We screwed.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.


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