THUMB DOWN: Mad tea party • The anti-government tea party movement knocked Republican Bob Bennett out of the U.S. Senate a significant loss for Utah and replaced him with extreme constitutionalist Mike Lee. The national tea tide swept the GOP to control of the House of Representatives, foretelling two years of divided government and gridlock. And though it seemed impossible, Utah's Legislature swung farther to the right with election of more ultraconservatives, followed by Rep. Rebecca Lockhart's ouster of Dave Clark as speaker of the House.
THUMB UP: On his own • Voters gave Gary Herbert his own well-deserved mandate as Utah's new governor. The electorate shrugged off charges from Democratic candidate Peter Corroon that Herbert's large campaign donations from people doing business with the state had influenced the awarding of contracts. Though a conservative himself, Herbert's reasonable policies on issues from austere budgets to immigration have damped the fire-breathers in the Legislature.
THUMB UP: Utah Compact • Representatives of business, government and churches and a host of individuals signed the Utah Compact, rightly urging lawmakers to leave immigration law to the federal government. It was in response to Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, who had promised to bring a draconian, Arizona-style bill to the 2011 Legislature that would have local police acting like federal agents to nab undocumented immigrants. The LDS Church endorsed the compact's call for compassion and acknowledgement of the contributions of immigrants, legal and otherwise, and its support for a free market where undocumented workers play an important economic role. Sen. Luz Robles' bill would provide permits for illegal workers who meet certain requirements, though it would have to be approved by the feds, which isn't likely.
THUMB UP: Wasatch Wilderness • Congressman Jim Matheson sponsored a bill to designate an additional 26,000 acres of wilderness and special management area in the Wasatch Mountains above the Salt Lake Valley. It would wisely protect vital watershed that produces most of Salt Lake City's drinking water. Ski resorts, especially Alta, are wary of the impact on their businesses.
THUMB UP: Playing with the big boys • The University of Utah left the Mountain West Conference and became the 12th member of the Pac-10 Conference, elevating Utah's flagship university to a new level, both athletically and academically.
THUMB UP: Health care • Faced with rising costs in the private sector and the likely imposition of new federal rules, Utah got out ahead of most of the rest of the country seeking ways to reform the health insurance market and make coverage more affordable. Like the federal act passed in 2010, Utah's experiment in "market-based" reforms is still finding its way, and all are discovering that cost control is easier said than done. But state Rep. Dave Clark is leading the effort to come up with a Utah solution. He and the federal government should be open to learning from one another as this effort goes forward.
THUMB UP: The end of an ordeal • There can be no question that the noble bearing assumed by Elizabeth Smart and her family as they endured first a nine-month kidnapping, then years of legal procedures that ended in the need to relive it all on the witness stand, provided an example of how both the system and determined individuals can stand up to nearly anything, and see to it that, while the memory cannot be erased, justice can be done.
THUMB UP: Standing against bigotry • The Utah Legislature sadly remains inert on the issue. But a growing number of local governments, social organizations, school districts and every-day Utahns believe that workplace and housing discrimination against gay and transgender people is unacceptable and a fair target for legislation. The LDS Church is among the groups supporting anti-discrimination laws that have been adopted in 10 major jurisdictions, including Salt Lake City, since November 2009. If this welcome trend continues, the Legislature will have made itself no worse than irrelevant on this issue. Which may be counted as an accomplishment.
THUMB UP: Waste wins • The state of Utah scored two significant points in the long-running debate over making Utah a nuclear waste dumping ground. First, at the behest of Gov. Gary Herbert, the federal government said it would look outside Utah to temporarily store 10,000 drums of depleted uranium, which becomes more radioactive over time. Second, a federal appeals court ruled that an interstate compact of Western states has authority to regulate low-level nuclear waste storage, thus prohibiting EnergySolutions from importing foreign nuclear waste to Utah. Good news all around.