Tom Clyde: Recapping an eventful election
The Great Blue Wave has been something of a slow motion event, with very close races still being called. The Democrats now have solid control of the House. The Senate remains solidly Republican. So while it wasn’t a whole pie in the face of Trump, it was enough that there will be somebody checking his worst impulses, except for firing Jeff Sessions and whatever other mischief happens between now and January.
It’s progress. Nobody’s getting impeached anytime soon. Congress will now get down to the business of doing nothing. Stasis is a preexisting condition. No real surprises in the national election.
The local election was a lot more interesting. The voters seem to have had a gutful of growth. In Wasatch County, a Republican bastion of private property rights (and, based on what’s happened around Jordanelle, a place where the word “no” has never been spoken), voters approved two open space bond issues. Maybe more significantly, they voted to rescind a zone change that increased density previously approved by the County Council. Enough is enough, apparently. Wasatch County has turned commie on us, trading their cowboy boots for Birkenstocks. The Midway open space bond is $5 million, which is a lot for a town the size of Midway. The County bond is $10 million. In both cases, the hope is to leverage that money with grants from conservation groups to buy conservation easements to preserve some of the rapidly vanishing rural character of Wasatch County. They are willing to spend real money to slow development.
In Summit County, residents of the Hoytsville neighborhood had proposed incorporating it as a town so they had local control over land use and services. The State conducted a feasibility study, and concluded that it was possible, though not easy, given the tiny tax base in the proposal. There are some huge development proposals looming. By a vote of 77 percent, the residents rejected the incorporation proposal. I don’t think that is an endorsement of the County zoning as much as a recognition that the costs of dealing with the large scale development proposals would crush a newly minted town. I didn’t hear anybody talking about an open space bond for Hoytsville. Big change is coming to the Coalville suburbs, ready or not.
I always thought the Treasure open space bond would pass in Park City, but thought it would be closer than it was. The support for it was overwhelming. It was a bad project when it was approved over 35 years ago, and hasn’t aged well. Preserving that land is more than a few acres of open space. It was a decision to protect Old Town from going full Disneyland.
The proposal to raise the gas tax by a dime a gallon to better fund the schools failed. It was kind of convoluted accounting. There’s no connection between how much I drive and school funding. (I’ve always thought the schools could be funded by a tax on diapers.) The proposal would have taken general fund money that now goes to roads and spent it on education, and made up the loss to the highway funding with the increased gas tax. I’m assuming the defeat was just a general reaction to raising gas taxes, and not a statement that we are adequately funding education. The fact that such budgetary detail was on the ballot at all is a solid indication that the legislature is unable to do its job. It was a non-binding advisory vote, intended to give the chicken legislators some cover if they actually raise taxes to fund state operations. They are not about to make hard decisions, even though that’s why they exist.
In fact, all of the ballot propositions shared that theme. The Legislature has failed to address medical marijuana a couple of times. The proposal that passed is less than perfect, but it will force the legislature and the Church-Formerly-Known-As-Mormon to deal with the issue (though I’m not sure how the Church got to be in control of this one). The anti-gerrymandering proposal appears to have squeaked though. Again, that’s one where the voters showed they don’t trust the lawmakers to do the right thing and draw district boundaries on a basis other than partisan advantage.
The proposal to let the Legislature call themselves into a special session passed. That seems like an outlier, with the others indicating a lack of trust in the Legislature. This change allows them to get together more often to do more mischief. It didn’t get a lot of scrutiny, other than the Salt Lake Tribune recommended voting “hell no” on that one.
A perfect result would be a Congress that would find the reasonable middle and actually move forward on something. That isn’t going to happen. But at least we won’t be strip mining Treasure Hill for the next ten years. I count that as a big win.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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The governments of the Wasatch Back have to reckon with its future as a contiguous metro area, Tom Clyde writes.