Best theories on Obama's new love for Utah Republicans | Buzz Blog

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Best theories on Obama's new love for Utah Republicans

Posted By on August 10, 2010, 3:04 PM

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To guarantee smooth sailing for Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court? To assure a Republican friendly in the upcoming fight over immigration reform? How 'bout plain ole' Chicago-style politics? Why might Obama appoint a Republican to U.S. Attorney for Utah?---

Former Congressional candidate Claudia Wright, radio personalities Mills Crenshaw and Troy Williams, as well as business man Jim Dabakis hosted a press conference at the Avenues' Sweet Library to demand answers not only from Obama, but locals like Orrin Hatch and Jim Matheson as to why Obama is now considering appointing Republican Scott Burns to be the top federal law enforcement agent in Utah, the U.S. Attorney.

Admittedly, dear readers, this is about as "inside baseball" as politics gets, but stick with me here. This strange thing may have a totally boring and banal explanation--albeit a secret one, at this point--but it could get really juicy, so you might want to do your homework now.

As I wrote yesterday, it's a matter of quite firm tradition that the president reaches out to local Congress people from the states to find names of potential lawyers who would be good candidates for U.S. Attorney in that district; for Utah, that's the entire state. So it's mysterious to those aware of that tradition why Obama would first ditch a qualified Democrat-favorite, David Schwediman, and next float the name of a Republican who's twice run for public office in Utah and lost, Scott Burns, who also happens to be a personal friend of Hatch, according to Wright. Being the only Dem. in D.C. from the Beehive, by tradition, Rep. Jim Matheson would be calling the shots on this appointment, but that doesn't seem to be the case, as Matheson is not taking credit for forwarding Burns' name to Obama. Nevertheless, horse trading for jobs and policy acquiescence is about as traditional as anything, so what makes this panel think the powers that be are going to tell us anything?

"With Barack Obama, we thought we had someone who set the bar higher," on transparency, Wright said.

I never trusted Obama for a second; in fact, I cried on election night pondering the years of this crap where hopeful people who trusted Obama would be betrayed repeatedly... but I digress.%uFFFD

Here are some theories--and my thoughts on their plausibility--that surfaced at the press conference:

  • Crenshaw says Obama may have needed to avoid a filibuster of Kagan to the Supreme Court. Hatch sits on the Judiciary Committee and thus has out-sized influence on that process.%uFFFD Plausible? Yes.%uFFFD Likely? I don't think so. The oil spill totally took center stage during the months in which Republicans would otherwise have tarnished Kagan's name; I just don't think the juice was in the public for the Republicans to filibuster her nomination.%uFFFD
  • Crenshaw, again, says Obama may be setting the table for the upcoming battle on immigration reform and maybe somehow Hatch looked pivotal in that fight so paying him a favor seemed wise. Plausible? Yes. Likely? I don't think so. Hatch is up for reelection in 2012--and may face a challenge from the popular Rep. Jason Chaffetz--and so his rhetoric on immigration reform is expected to be fierce. Conventional wisdom--probably right this time--says Bob Bennett lost his Senate seat for failing to kiss enough Tea Baggers, and thus, immigration being what it is to the far-right, Hatch might feel pressured to become undocumented workers' worst nightmare. But Chaffetz is a pretty well-known Congressman already, so even if Hatch is in a tough reelection bid against him, Obama's got a well-known opponent to his immigration reform on either side of that race. And, if Obama were going to trade appointments to Republicans each time a big legislative fight was approaching, we'd see a lot more mysterious Obama appointments, which, in their aggregate, would seem less mysterious. But we're not.
  • Obama was questioned by the right-wing echo chamber after appointing Scott Matheson Jr. to the judiciary (I don't have a link because we ignored the obvious BS). Some suggested he appointed Scott Matheson as a way to buy brother Jim Matheson's vote on health care reform (which he later voted against anyway). This theory, I guess, is maybe Obama has had enough with the unpredictable state of Deseret politics and thought choosing a person from the right would deflect similar criticism. I don't buy this one at all--I don't even think it's plausible because multiple Obama appointees have suffered terrible slander, but he hasn't reacted by simply appointing Republicans to all the jobs.%uFFFD

I think Tribune blogger Glen Warchol had the best theory, though, which is basically that an unreliable Blue Dog Democrat like Jim Matheson is basically worthless to Obama and his agenda and that--on balance--a friendly Republican Senator--even one who pretends to hate you in public--is slightly more valuable, thus he chose Orrin's friend, not one of Jim's. Plausible? Yes. Likely? I don't know.

No one seems to want to be on the first one on the dance floor with the following theory, so let me give it a go.

  • Everyone seems to be assuming that Hatch was holding the chips in any horse-trade with Obama, but what if it's the other way around and Obama had Hatch by the balls? Salt Lake District Attorney Lohra Miller said almost a year ago that the feds were investigating the 2008 Utah Treasurer's race scandal, which was largely a GOP thing. Is it possible that Schwendiman, a Democrat, was planning to force some of the most powerful Republicans in Utah into a grand jury, Hatch stepped in to help his friends whose legal pants may be down, offered some cherry deal to Obama--take your pick from above--and thus we end up with Burns, a guy who may be more likely to play nice with the GOPers in question?

I told you this might get juicy.

Do you want to live with a Republican U.S. Attorney in Utah for the indefinite future even though by all tradition and means, that position should go to a Democrat? In a state of one-party rule, only occasionally is there a member of the other side playing cop over our parochial little state government in Deseret. It seems a shame to give them a pass.

I'm with the panel: We have a right to know what the deal was. But it's the age-old problem: those who know won't even tell you what they had for lunch, much less what icky details are in their political horse trades; and those who will tell you (maybe) what's going on (like me), simply don't know.

Did I leave any of the best theories out? If so, let me know in comments.

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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