A wartime governor?

“Some people might not have realized that World War III has already begun” – Tweet by Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, March 22, 2020


By David Rogers

One of my favorite moments in an epic movie, “The Godfather”, is when Al Pacino’s character Michael Corleone, turns to Robert Duvall’s character Tom Hagen and says “You’re out Tom. You are not a wartime consigliere”. Duvall’s character had been a long standing attorney representing the family’s (legal and illegal) interests with a stellar track record. Yet he was removed in a period where a war between crime families was clearly underway. I see this fictional drama as an appropriate metaphor for where we are as a nation and the implications for the gubernatorial race in our great state of Utah.

We are in a new reality as the intrigue surrounding the Corona Virus is altering the landscape of America and the world. A war on our values and our future prosperity is clearly underway. If the President of El Salvador is not completely lost in hyperbole (and the depth of fallout from our current crisis remains to be seen), the implications for our next governor are obvious.

A manager, a purveyor of the status quo, will be insufficient. As we venture into dangerous and unexplored territory a “wartime” leader is in order. But who among the existing candidates might fill that bill? Who can think outside the box and provide the firm, yet principled and visionary leadership needed in such extraordinary times? Let’s take a brief glimpse at the field:

Spencer Cox (R) – As a solid and experienced second fiddle to our current Governor, does Cox have the ability to step outside Herbert’s (a perfectly fine manager in his own right) shadow? Like Herbert he is really in touch with rural Utah’s needs, coming from San Pete County. He may be seen as more of the “same-same”. Not the best position in this moment of crisis despite his obvious credentials.

Jon Huntsman (R) – The curiosity of his seeking a second go-round at the governorship is only exceeded by his most recent resume. Ambassador to Russia and China? That has to be some of the toughest duty out there. And coming back here? Is this a vacation from harsher realities; what is he thinking? He should run as an Independent since his policy outlook treads the line between Republican and Progressive.

Greg Hughes (R) – A battle tested speaker who is intimately familiar with the quirks of Utah politics. But does he have the stuff to step into the turmoil of the national stage that governors need to deal with? He seems tough and does show promise. And he likes Trump, which shows patience and resilience.

Jeff Burningham (R) – A hard working businessman who could bring obvious practicality to the office. Trump like a figure without the attitude and a much better vocabulary. Light on political experience, however, and in a war that may be a fatal flaw (just as we now see Trump struggling).

Thomas Wright (R) – Smart and experienced, but a true “Party man”, having been in positions of authority in the Republican establishment locally. And in war, thinking outside the Party platform is crucial. And, he is a Park City guy, which we all know is “in Utah but not of Utah”.

Zachary Adams Moses (D) – May not even know a war is going on unless it is something to be protested. Give him another four years and see if he has more resolve once he finds himself.

Nikki R. Pino (D) – A relative unknown. From the sound of some of his postings, he is likely quite progressive, which in this environment would be fighting for the wrong side.

Aimee Winder Newton (R) – A very principled and likable individual. Ms. Newton is strong on micro-issues like budgeting, homelessness or intergenerational poverty. That may be like bringing a knife to an artillery battle. We will have to wait and see.

The candidates are many but are true conflict-tested leaders few? Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to better vet this field as election time draws nearer. It is tough to evaluate a candidate through a Zoom meeting or YouTube sound bite. Whoever Utahans choose as their next Governor, we should give careful consideration to the extraordinary circumstances we may face in the coming months and years. If we are indeed at war for our livelihood and liberty, conventional leadership simply will not be enough.

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