Experienced politicians always have one eye peeled for the Law of Unintended Consequences. Like good courtroom lawyers, they don’t ask questions they don’t know the answers to in advance, and they don’t take shots at their opponents without taking the effect—and any likely backlash—into account.
Backlash is a powerful political counter force, and calculating its potential is part of the business of all professional political operatives. That’s why the real pros who’d like to get rid of Rocky Anderson as mayor of Salt Lake City were probably gnashing their teeth when groups in Davis and Utah counties announced plans to raise money to defeat Anderson.
If I were the mayor, I’d be smiling. What better way to energize the more progressive voters of Salt Lake City to go to the polls to vote for you? The leaders of Fed Up Utah (Davis) and Utahns for Utah’s Capital (Utah) may even find themselves facing off against organized, pro-Rocky groups.
These suburban groups, dominated by Republicans who aren’t happy unless they control every aspect of civic life, can’t stand the idea that there are different visions of the role of government. They act in ways they would never tolerate from others—such as if Salt Lake City residents formed their own high-profile political lynch mob, as unlikely as that may be, to foster mischief in their counties.
What’s particularly interesting is that the group in Utah County has pledged to give the money it raises to another Democrat, Frank Pignanelli, instead of supporting Molonai Hola, the only Republican in the race so far. Just months ago, the Utah Republican Party tried to punish members for doing the same thing in a nonpartisan Salt Lake County race.
Meanwhile, the play given anti-Rocky stories by the Deseret News suggests a more than casual journalistic interest. Headlines like “Anti-Rocky movement spreads” and “Utahns not from Salt Lake vow to see Rocky KO’d” risk exaggerating the influence of these two-bit political carpetbaggers. A few days later, in a story headlined “Big Money Backs Rocky,” the word “millionaire” was mentioned five times, to drive home the assertion that Anderson has strayed from the path of campaign finance reform he has advocated in the past.
But give the guy a break. Does anyone think Frank Pignanelli’s campaign will not benefit from the contributions of his multi-millionaire lobbying clients? He even used the occasion of his “family-style” (the D-News’ term) neighborhood tour May 30, about which the D-News wrote glowingly, to promote the Salt Lake City Classic race, which is sponsored by Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield, a Pignanelli client and campaign donor. Sounds more like it should have been named the “Corporate Fat Cat-style” tour. This detail was reported in The Salt Lake Tribune but didn’t make it into the story on the same subject that appeared in the D-News, which two weeks earlier had gone out of its way to find “advocates” to write a news story critical of the mayor’s bar-hopping tour of downtown.
Clearly, election-year madness has gripped the body politic. City Weekly has been plenty critical of Rocky Anderson lately, and we’ve written nothing in recent months about either of his challengers. But with any luck, the community will get a grip on itself and approach this election by keeping matters of policy and people—and above all the voters of Salt Lake City—uppermost in mind.