Analyzing the 2010 Utah Senate and Gubernatorial Elections

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze some interesting tidbits of the 2010 Utah Senate and Gubernatorial elections. Specifically it will look at some hints of increasing Democratic strength in this blood-red state.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Salt Lake County, 2004

Utah is commonly considered as one of the most conservative states in America, and for good reason; Democrats are essentially nonexistent in the state. Some Southern states will occasionally vote (or used to occasionally vote) for a conservative Democrat. Not Utah; its Republicans are rock-hard Republicans.

Here is how Utah looked like in the 2004 presidential election:

President George W. Bush dominated the state; he got almost three times as many votes as Senator John Kerry did. Bush did quite well in the mountainous west of the United States; normally Utah is still very Republican, but not quite this much.

Take a look at Salt Lake County, the most populous part of the state. Almost four in ten voters in 2004 lived in Salt Lake County.

Bush got a pretty powerful number of votes from the area, taking 59.4% of the vote. The margin wasn’t quite as good as elsewhere in the state (where he won more than 71.4% of the vote); the rest of Utah was much more conservative than Salt Lake County in 2004. Nevertheless, Bush had no reason to complain; getting three-fifths of the vote in a major metropolitan area is something Republicans rarely do.

Salt Lake County, 2008

In 2008 Senator Barack Obama did much better than Senator John Kerry in 2004. Naturally he also did better in Utah. Indeed, Utah moved quite a bit more to the left in 2008 than the rest of the nation.

Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain still won a very comfortable victory in this very conservative state:

Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain still won a very comfortable victory in this very conservative state:

The most noticeable difference here is what happened to Salt Lake County; the county turned from a Republican fortress into Obama territory. Republicans fell from 59.4% of the vote to 48.1% of the vote. Salt Lake County’s enormous shift Democratic accounted for much of Obama’s improvement in Utah.

Salt Lake County, 2010

It’s the 2010 midterm elections where things get really interesting. 2010 was the best Republican year in a generation; Republicans won up and down the map. Democratic areas turned Republican; Republican areas turned blood-red.

In a situation such as this, one would expect Salt Lake County to revert back to its strongly Republican voting patterns in 2004 (or vote even more Republican, given that 2010 was a more Republican year than 2004).

In fact, this is very much what didn’t happen. Let’s take a look at the two most important statewide Utah elections in 2010.

Here is the 2010 Utah gubernatorial election:

Republican candidate Gary Herbert took a bare majority – 51.0% of the vote – of Salt Lake County.

Republicans did even worse in the statewide senate election:

Republican candidate Mike Lee got 49.0% of the vote in the county; he failed to win a majority of voters.

All in all, it seems that things are moving the Democrat’s way in the most populous county of Utah.

There is also something else very interesting about Utah: the state moved very little to the right in 2010, despite the huge Republican wave. Republican candidates didn’t win more than 70% of the vote in 2010, unlike Bush in 2004. Their performance was very similar to that of McCain’s. The Senate race is particularly remarkable; Senator Mike Lee only improved 0.8% upon McCain’s performance, despite a double-digit shift in the national vote towards the Republican Party.


It’s always hard-to-say that a particular area is trending one way or another. Salt Lake County moved strongly leftwards in 2008, and resisted the 2010 Republican wave. One the other hand, Republicans have lost Salt Lake County in the past (although very rarely while winning more than 60% of the vote). One could argue that this phenomenon is not anything really new, although I am less than convinced.

The evidence is less strong that Utah as a whole is shifting Democratic. While the state as a whole also resisted the 2010 Republican wave, one could argue that Bush overperformed. Republicans have often in the past won Utah with around 60-65% of the vote; on the other hand, they have relatively rarely taken more than 70% of the vote in the state. The evidence is more mixed that Utah as a whole is trending Democratic, compared to the evidence that Salt Lake County is trending Democratic.

What does this all mean?

Probably very little. Even if Democrats regularly won Salt Lake County by double-digits, Utah would still be a solidly Republican state. Democrats would still lose statewide elections. They might regularly be guaranteed a Democratic congressman from Utah coming from Salt Lake City, but on the other hand Republicans could still fairly easily gerrymander the state so that they controlled all the seats. And Democrats already improbably hold a seat in Utah, so in real life they would actually gain no seats in Utah.

All in all, a Utah in which Republicans went from winning by 30 points to winning by 15 points would still be pretty impossible for Democrats do win.

But it does say something about the state of American politics when Republicans are having trouble winning an urban city in the most conservative part of America.




The Two Jon Huntsmans

Paul Blumenthal writes up the buzz around Jon Huntsman Jr.'s "pre-announcement" announcement ads and fundraisers.  The strategy is positioning himself as "cut from a different cloth," unorthodox, and moderate.

Today the Utah State Democratic Party, who found common ground with Huntsman as Governor on climate change -- a position Huntsman has recently reversed -- and civil unions, responded with an announcement of their own: Jon Huntsman "In 1 Day."

Huntsman's launching point might get him somewhere in a general election as a moderate, but I don't see how "unorthodox" and "cut from a different cloth" plays well to the ears of the average GOP primary voter.

And as the state Democrats point out, in the end there's nothing really new here.  Just another chameleon ready to do and say anything to win.

Weekly Diaspora: Big Business Dictates Immigration Policy—At Workers’ Expense

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Arizona’s business leaders, frustrated by the deep financial fallout of increasingly radical immigration proposals, successfully swayed state lawmakers into defeating five extremist anti-immigrant bills.

New America Media’s Valeria Fernández reports that 60 executives from the likes of WellsFargo bank and U.S. Airways penned an open letter to state Senate President Russell Pearce last week, urging him to leave immigration policy to federal government. Julianne Hing at has posted the letter in full, but here’s the gist:

Last year, boycotts were called against our state’s business community, adversely impacting our already-struggling economy and costing us jobs. Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. Sales outside of the state declined … It is an undeniable fact that each of our companies and our employees were impacted by the boycotts and the coincident negative image […] Arizona is looking like a nativist, restrictive and intolerant place, and that’s bad for business.

The legislature subsequently voted down five controversial measures that sought to redefine citizenship and ban undocumented immigrants from hospitals and public schools, among other provisions.

Pearce, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering repeatedly saved the contentious bills from dying much sooner, has vowed to continue pushing his agenda by voter referendum, if necessary. If he does, he may have more success. Arizonans have repeatedly voted in favor of harsh anti-immigrant proposals, including measures that stripped undocumented college students of financial assistance, banned ethnic studies, and ended equal opportunity programs.

Arizona’s business leaders overlook immigrant workers

It’s worth noting, though, that while the letter’s signatories handily criticized the legislature’s immigration agenda for negatively impacting the state’s economy, they had almost nothing to say about its detrimental impact on the state’s workers—a considerable proportion of whom are  immigrants. Instead, they urge “market driven immigration policies” that will “preserve our ability to compete in the global economy“ — language that is more evocative of labor-exploitative capitalism than worker solidarity.

Their calls for “the creation of a meaningful guest worker program” are similarly suspect. While the notion of a “meaningful guest worker program” that would legalize certain undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. may, on the surface, seem like a sympathetic solution—particularly in light of the federal government’s failure to move forward with any kind of comprehensive immigration reform—it nevertheless poses dire implications for undocumented workers.

Utah’s guest worker proposal evokes Bracero program abuses

As David Bacon at In These Times posits, “guest workers” whose legal status is contingent on their employment situation are uniquely vulnerable to workplace abuse and exploitation, and could face labor conditions “close to slavery.” The Bracero Program, a guest worker initiative which imported Mexican laborers primarily for work in agriculture between 1942 and 1964, stands out as stark example of the dark side of guest worker programs. Bacon explains:

Braceros were treated as disposable, dirty and cheap. Herminio Quezada Durán, who came to Utah from Chihuahua, says ranchers often had agreements between each other to exchange or trade braceros as necessary for work. Jose Ezequiel Acevedo Perez, who came from Jerez, Zacatecas, remembers the humiliation of physical exams that treated Mexicans as louse-ridden.

“We were stripped naked in front of everyone,” he remembers, and sprayed with DDT, now an outlawed pesticide. Men in some camps were victims of criminals and pimps.

Arizona isn’t the only state to toy with the idea of establishing a guest worker program. In an effort to distance itself from Arizona’s contentious and economically disastrous immigration agenda, Utah—a fiercely red state and Arizona’s northern neighbor—is considering creating its own guest worker program, according to the Texas Observer’s Victor Landa. The law would grant legal residency to working, undocumented residents who do not commit serious crimes.

While Landa notes that the purportedly progressive measure nevertheless runs afoul of federal immigration laws (only the federal government can grant immigration status), the bill presents other issues. One must stay employed or lose residency—a circumstance that would strip employees of bargaining power while granting their employers an inordinate amount of license in the workplace. In practical terms, that doesn’t much change the existing workplace dynamics of undocumented immigrants, who frequently endure exploitation and abuse without recourse.

Labor unions vs. worksite immigration enforcement

What’s more: Exploitative employers generally get off scot free even when targeted by employer sanctions efforts; it’s the workers, not employers, who bear the brunt of the federal government’s worksite immigration enforcement. For this reason, a Services Employees International Union (SEIU) leader, Javier Morillo, has condemned the Department of Homeland Security’s emhasis on workplace raids and employer verification, according to Nicolas Mendoza at Campus Progress.

Responding to the termination of 250 unionized janitors in Minnesota following an I-9 audit—a verification process through which the federal government can ask businesses to check the immigration statuses of their employees—Morillo said:

Under the leadership of Secretary Napolitano the federal government has become an employment agency for the country’s worst employers. With each I-9 audit, the government is systematically pushing hardworking people into the underground economy where they face exploitation… Let’s be clear: I-9 audits, by definition, do not go after egregious employers who break immigration laws because many of them do not use I-9 forms. Human traffickers do not ask their victims for their social security cards. [emphasis added]

Mendoza notes that the federal government’s employer verification programs rely on the honesty of employers and rewards them for firing undocumented workers, rather than sanctioning businesses for hiring them. Workers pay the price, while employers get off.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



State Legislatures Shutting Down Transparency

Crossposting my guest blog for the Sunlight Foundation on anti-transparency legislation passed in Utah.  Read more about similar secrecy grabs taking place in Maine and Tennessee at the Sunlight Blog.

Utah Legislators' Secrecy Grab: Transparency Under Attack

With a 21-7 vote, the Utah State Senate last week approved an overhaul of the state's Government Records and Access Management Act (GRAMA). HB477 would shield lawmakers' voicemail, text messages, instant messages possibly even email from public record. Only one Republican voted against the bill. Senate sponsor Sen. Lyle Hillyard explained in an email exchange with a constituent his reason for co-sponsoring the bill:

Some people who know me don't know there is a difference and some think that when I am out of the office that my senate e-mail is the only way to contact me. Our staff is tired of the threats from the media and we plan on working with them if they want after the bill is passed if there are changes to be made but let's do it without threats of going to court.

First introduced in a surprise hearing by House sponsor Rep. John Dougall, the bill would also allow agencies to charge "professional rate" fees for requests, and guide courts to seek a "preponderance of evidence" justifying a releasing documents. The current GRAMA law instructs courts to focus on the public benefit of release. The bill passed the house 61-12 on Thursday, and the Senate less than 24 hours later so as to avoid, in the words of Senate President Michael Waddoups, letting it "fester" over the weekend. Sen. Hillyard declared proudly, "I'm doing this for future legislatures!". The House released this statement after final passage:

A core concern with GRAMA is the distinction between a conversation and a record. When GRAMA was created it wasn’t fathomed that day-to-day conversations would be considered as records. But what you and we now consider a digital conversation is now considered public record: text messages, voice mails, instant message logs. If that’s the case, why not just mic up every elected official and the tens of thousands of public employees across the state? Not only is it an impossible task, it’s also a gross invasion of privacy. And so we come to Rep. John Dougall and House Bill 477. The bill resets GRAMA with today’s technology in mind and clarifies legislative intent where court decisions have swung the pendulum dangerously far in one direction.

The Senate majority issued a statement, as well as the audio of Rep. Dougall's bill introduction. Lawmakers quickly moved on to controversial immigration reform bills, hoping to regain control of the narrative. What they didn't count on was an enraged public.  This bill has drawn criticism from both progressive and conservative state organizations. Even Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka, normally kind to the legislature, said "I hated the process," and called parts of the bill "outrageous." Reaction was broad, bipartisan and decidedly against the changes proposed. By Monday morning, the Governor's office had been flooded with calls and emails demanding a veto of the bill, an online petition had garnered nearly 1,000 signatures in a matter of hours, and two separate rallies had been planned for the final few days of the legislative session. Even after a veto threat from Governor Herbert resulted in a rare recall of HB477 to change the implementation date a rally organized on Facebook by local blogger Bob Aagard drew more than 150 protesters to the Capital Rotunda. But that night, the Governor signed the bill into law, promising a non-binding "work group" will be formed to consider amendments before implementation. The Utah Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists responded:

Perhaps worst of all, HB477 strips from Utah’s public records law language stating clearly that government records are presumed to be public and that the burden is on government to show why records should not be disclosed. This is critical language, language recognized by the statutes or common law of every state in the country. “With one scribble of a pen, the governor made his state the most secretive in the nation, as well as more backward than most countries, including Mexico and Albania,” said SPJ FOI Committee chairman David Cuillier. “This will price citizens out of their government, encourage corruption and online sweetheart deals, and embolden those who would undermine democratic principles.

Legislators have responded to the backlash from transparency advocates, angry voters and journalists by scapegoating local media as unable to report objectively on the issue, accusing the public of not understanding the bill, and anecdotal misleading justification for the changes. Bill sponsors Dougall and Hillyard have said they only seek to protect legislators' private communications. What they don't explain is that the current law already does.

HB477 represents an arrogant legislative body placing their own position and power above the right of citizens to know what business is done in their name. In a state already challenged by one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, legislators have acted selfishly and in bad faith, placing themselves above increasing the confidence of voters in the integrity of their public institutions.

With the Governor's signature, the law is set to take effect July 1st.  A citizen group has filed a referendum petition to repeal the law entirely, and has 40 days to collect enough signatures to get it on the ballot this fall.

Weekly Diaspora: Arizona Pushing Undocumented to Surrounding States

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Stricter immigration enforcement and reduced economic opportunities in Arizona has pushed many undocumented immigrants out of the state to look for work.

While restrictionist lawmakers, whose stated objective over the last year has been to drive attrition through enforcement, are satisfied, it’s not exactly the outcome they’ve been waiting for. Rather than return to their home countries, most immigrants are instead relocating to surrounding states — a trend that’s prompting legislators in other states to approach immigration reform in radically different ways.

Oklahoma Absorbs Arizona Emigrants

Oklahama is experiencing a considerable influx of undocumented immigrants fleeing Arizona,according to Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times. The rising immigrant population has created friction among residents, some of whom believe that undocumented migrants are taking jobs away from Oklahomans. In response, state lawmakers have introduced a bill known as “Arizona Plus,” which incorporates many of Arizona’s more controversial laws, in an effort to expel immigrants in much the same way that Arizona’s existing immigrations laws attempt to do. Lydersen explains:

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R) and Shannon Clark, a Tulsa police officer in charge of enforcing the city’s 287(g) immigration program, said workers including masons and tile workers have been greatly affected by the influx of immigrant workers from Arizona. Employers and civil rights leaders have decried the proposed Arizona Plus measure and other recently introduced anti-immigrant laws, saying that immigrants provide a crucial part of the state’s workforce, especially in areas with otherwise aging and declining populations.

There remains disagreement about the actual economic impacts of unauthorized immigration. As state Senator Andrew Rice (D) told Lydersen, many of Oklahoma’s incoming immigrants are assuming low-wage jobs that citizens are not even bothering to apply for.

Immigrants are an economic boon

Of course, numerous studies demonstrate that immigration actually bolsters economies rather than depressing them, effectively driving wages up and creating opportunities for American workers to move into more highly skilled fields, as Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress explains:

A study co-authored by George Borjas…shows without new waves of immigration, legal or otherwise, there would be far fewer businesses operating today because of an inadequate labor market. His partner on the paper, Lawrence F. Katz, co-authoredanother study that showed income inequality in the bottom half of the economic ladder has not increased since the 1980s—meaning the huge spike in undocumented immigrants since 1990 has had no statistical effect on the economic fortunes of the Americans they allegedly affect.

Facts notwithstanding, pitting undocumented laborers against low-income American workers is a time-tested tactic of anti-immigrant politicos. It’s effective too, even though — as Zinshteyn notes — many of its proponents also support myriad other policies that directly hurt low-income American laborers.

Utah proposes guest worker program for undocumented migrants

Meanwhile Utah’s legislature is proposing to handle unauthorized immigration rather differently. New America Media reports that state lawmakers passed a bill last week that seeks to legalize and integrate undocumented laborers into the state’s workforce. The measure would create two-year work visas for undocumented Mexican immigrants without a criminal record and their families, for fees ranging from $1,000-$2,500. Lawmakers hope to demonstrate that Utah, which is home to 110,000 undocumented immigrants, is a safer place for migrants than Arizona.

Immigrant rights advocates are not as enthusiastic, however.’s Julianne Hing notesthat the Utah legislature also passed enforcement and employer sanctions measures last week, which — while less draconian than Arizona’s — nevertheless do their part to marginalize and oppress undocumented immigrants. Hing adds:

[Activists] argue that the benefits of the guest worker program will not be enough to mitigate the harm of harsh enforcement measures that will almost certainly lead to more exploitation and deportation.

Regardless, many others are lauding Utah’s efforts to implement some kind of reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants living in the United States — particularly as Congress has yet to move forward with any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.


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