When a Senate committee recently balked on confirming Gov. Gary Herbert's troubleshooter, Francine Giani, to the newly expanded Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, speculation about the politics behind the move was rampant.
Talk was that Giani, a fierce loyalist to Herbert, would give the governor a strong pipeline into the workings of the liquor commission and that idea rankled some senators who see alcohol policy as their turf.
That speculation, according to sources, will be realized in the coming week because Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, reportedly won't allow Giani's name to come before the committee for reconsideration.
Waddoups, who is retiring from the Legislature, has been one of the leaders in setting alcohol policy and has made it his turf. The denial of the Giani nomination may be the Senate leader's last thumb-in-your-eye gesture to the governor.
There were other issues at play last month when Giani's name was put on hold. Sen. John Valentine, co-chair of the Interim Business and Labor Committee that delayed Giani's confirmation, said at the time he was concerned about potential governance conflicts because Giani is director of the Department of Commerce and, hence, a member of Herbert's cabinet.
Giani supporters since pointed out, however, that legislators sit on several governor-appointed boards, so the criticism seems disingenuous.
A third issue was that lobbyists for the LDS Church had objections to Giani because they felt they weren't properly notified of the appointment and wanted to exert more control over the process.
The LDS Church has had a say in alcohol policy in Utah since the Beehive State was the deciding vote to repeal Prohibition in 1933. Legislative officials have admitted on several occasions that no liquor legislation passes in Utah without a nod from the church.
Church lobbyists also have enjoyed consultation from state leaders whenever new members of the State Liquor Commission are being considered until the election of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who demonstrated an independent streak.
Huntsman appointed business owner Sam Granato as chairman of the commission and, while a Mormon and nondrinker himself, Granato's appointment rankled the church lobbyists because they felt they weren't consulted.
The discontent worsened when Granato proved to be an independent voice on the commission and advocated for more liquor licenses as an economic development tool and more openness in the process.
Giani, whom Herbert has described as "imminently qualified," has worked in various capacities for five Utah governors beginning with Norm Bangerter in 1985. She has a reputation as a loyalist to the person who appointed her and who fights hard to protect the administration's interests.
She also is known for her independence and was viewed with suspicion by the church lobbyists, even though she too is a Mormon in good standing and a nondrinker. She showed that independence as acting director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and openly sparred with commission chairman Richard Sperry, a favorite among the church lobbyists.
Sperry wanted Giani to report to him. She reported to Herbert.
Since Giani's nomination was put on hold, key legislators on the committee were persuaded by the governor's office that her nomination was not an attempt by the governor to wrest some liquor-policy turf from the Legislature, but that she is a proven problem-solver who righted the scandal-plagued department when she came in as acting director.
During talks between legislators and the governor's office, a compromise seemed to be in the works in which Giani's nomination would be confirmed, but she would serve for only a year or two, then step down.
That proposed compromise now seems moot if Waddoups, as I've been told, throws down the hammer.