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Friday, April 23, 2010
Campaigns for County Commission

I'm studying candidates and issues a little more before tomorrow's convention, but here are some notes on the campaigns themselves, not so much the candidates and their issues.

I can scarcely believe I haven't blogged since March 27. I've missed it, and there's been a great deal I might have blogged about, too. But LBB has been relentless on at least three fronts -- at least one more than usual.

Tomorrow is the Utah County Republican Party Nominating Convention. I'm chair of American Fork's Precinct 4, so I'm one of the precinct's delegates to both county and state conventions. We'll be voting mostly on candidates for county offices tomorrow. Any offices which cross county lines are voted on at the state convention, which is two weeks hence, on May 8.

I try to be conscientious in my responsibilities. I've been talking with candidates, reading what they send me in the mail and by e-mail, and consulting with other officials in the area who have worked with certain candidates in the past. I've compared notes with other delegates. I've made some fairly firm decisions and a couple of tentative ones already, but I'm still considering some of the races. Tonight I'm taking one more look at all the candidates, taking a few notes, making a few phone calls, and jotting down a few more questions. If I don't get a chance to ask all the questions tomorrow, at least I'll be listening for the answers.

I will not be describing my current thoughts on candidates here, because I won't be finished evaluating them in time to post this tonight. But I do have a few observations on the county commission races. Two of the three seats on the Utah County Commission are up for election this year.

Why Is It Always About Taxes?

I mentioned to one of the candidates that Utah County Commission races irritate me, because the entire discussion seems to go like this:

Candidate A: I swear on a stack of Bibles that I have never raised taxes, do not now wish to raise taxes, and will never raise taxes in Utah County, no matter what. And my opponent is as close as you can be to a tax-and-spend liberal and still breathe the sweet, freedom-loving air of Utah County. He should probably move to Park City.

Candidate B: I swear on a stack of Bibles, Books of Mormon, and every novel Gerald Lund has ever written, that I will not raise your taxes. My opponent's record of raising your taxes is clear. With all due respect to him and his multitudinous progeny, he is a scurvy, tax-raising knave.

Candidate A: When my opponent was in fourth grade, he raised his hand in social studies and said that he didn't see why tax increases were so evil. And here is a list of 43 people, most of whom you've never heard of, who swear that tax increases are evil and I am good.

Candidate B: Here is a list of 47 people, most of whom I have never heard of, who swear that they were in the post office on the evening of April 15 of this year and stood in line with my opponent for 20 minutes, and never once heard him say a negative word about taxes. It is unconscionable. And the only reason he knows what I said as a witless fourth grader is that anytime anyone in Utah says something favorable about raising taxes, a joyful shiver runs up and down his spine.

Candidate A: Does not!

Candidate B: Does so!

Candidate A: Does not! Ask my wife!

Candidate B: Does so! Your wife is the one who told me!

And so forth, ad nauseum -- except that it's even less amusing, and, much as we might wish it, none of them ever uses the phrase "scurvy knave."

What Does the County Government Do, Anyway?

I told one of the candidates of my distaste for this hopelessly shallow debate, and he explained that he thinks it happens because most people have no clear picture of what the county government does, except that it is up to its missionary haircuts in property taxes. It assesses property values, collects the taxes, keeps some of them, and so on. People notice that.

If people think a little longer, they realize that the county jail and the Sheriff's Department are county entities, and there is a small percentage of the population which does not live within any city's boundaries and therefore relies on the county for some of the services a municipality would ordinarily provide. For a more complete picture of our county government's activities, see Utah County Online.

There are other institutions which are closely related to the county government but are not part of it, strictly speaking. One of these, the Timpanogos Special Service District -- the "sewer district" by any other name would smell as foul -- is the subject of considerable discontent among some cities' leaders. All three county commissioners sit on its board, and one gets the impression that some cities don't feel well represented there.

One candidate in one of the races says we need a bigger county commission -- with more members, that is -- so that cities can be better represented. His opponent argues that it would cost money, which I'm sure it would, but that doesn't end the discussion for me. If we were better represented, and presumably better governed as a result, there would be some additional economies, one thinks. So perhaps it is a tad shallow to try to reduce all questions to taxation.

Happily, as the campaign has progressed, there has been some discussion of issues other than taxes, such as the planned bridge over Utah Lake, whether county government has any place in funding the arts -- I'm not going to say it doesn't -- and the proper role, if any, of government in things like economic development and the construction of a convention center. Unhappily, the debate keeps slipping back toward silliness. One incumbent's opponents are all up in arms about the county commissioner pay increase he voted against. They say he was for it before he voted against it, which makes him a liar -- because he promised to oppose such pay increases -- and, worse yet, means he cannot be considered a true conservative. Politics being what they are, none of the opponents' rhetoric seems to be restrained or moderated at all by the fact that the official record is, he voted against it.

More on How Not to Impress Me

I'm really not certain how much of what delegates see gets any play on a broader stage. For example, would anyone but delegates know of one incumbent's terrible gaffe on a postcard, if I didn't mention it here? He used "it's" where he should have used "its." It's not a deal-breaker with me -- it may well be with a few of my friends, at least until they read his opponents' materials -- but it's probably a good thing he is not campaigning on an I-am-more-than-a-mere-mortal platform. (Besides, I think we all became a little more wary about such platforms after the last presidential election.)

When another incumbent sent out an e-mail to delegates with a bunch of endorsements the other day, and then had to send out an apology and clarification later in the day, because he claimed some endorsements he did not actually have, that might have been simply a candidate having a bad day. When it happened again several days later, it was funny. When it happened a third time, it was pathetic. Campaign managers have been beheaded for less. (I can't name one, but it must have happened.) Such recurring ineptitude may not be a deal-breaker, and it may not have anything to do with being a good county commissioner, but one wonders about it happening repeatedly in the same brief campaign.

I'm still not mentioning names, because this is about the campaign, not the candidates' stances on issues, or I'd tell you which candidate sponsored "meet and mingle" events around the county, to which all county candidates were invited. That is, all were invited until one was uninvited because -- I swear I am not making this up -- this sponsor-candidate read an anonymous comment on a Salt Lake Tribune article the other day, which asserted that the soon-to-be-uninvited candidate had pointed at a woman and made her cry. Yes, I said it was an anonymous comment.

I asked the candidate if this was true. She said it was. Later she said she talked to the thin-skinned woman to get the full story. I asked the Uninvited One for his side of the story. It was substantially different and included an account of the pointed-at woman's misbehavior.

Sometimes political debate goes only about half an inch deep. And sometimes it's shallower than that.

Final Thought

What does it all mean? I'm not entirely sure. But at least we got off the subject of taxes for a minute in the county commissioner campaigns.

We'll see how things go tomorrow in Orem at the convention.

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