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Were Foxley & Pignanelli guarding Governor Herbert’s henhouse last weekend?

Teethmarks and Taliban

Thinking some more about what happened with Governor Herbert’s sudden vanishing act on HB 477, the bill to gut Utah’s freedom of information (GRAMA) law and conceal government records from the public, a couple of curious things come to mind.

1. Paul Rolly’s column.  Rolly claims that the Republican legislators who planned the HB 477 blitzkrieg told him that they’d checked it out with the Governor beforehand and he was down with their plan, until a day later, when he “threw them under the bus.”  According to Rolly, “the more [Herbert] learned…the more uncomfortable he became.”  Quick translation: the more the public and media started to scream, the more uncomfortable Herbert became. Until he hatched a plan to take off the heat.  Or because, let’s face it, the Accidental Governor is not that bright, someone hatched one for him.

2. Rolly says that legislators changed their minds on Monday when they learned that Herbert had decided that delaying the bill’s enactment date would give him cover.  And so, the legislators who felt they’d been thrown under the bus decided to roll over and help him?  Public clamor doesn’t bother these people in the least.  Something doesn’t add up.

3. The ad.  Tuesday morning, a full page ad basically endorsing the fake resolution to the crisis appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, headlined “A Break in the Clouds”.  The Trib‘s printing deadline would have been sometime early Monday afternoon.  At the latest.  Management had to approve the concept, someone had to create the ad, and management had to sign off on the finished product.  Consider the timeline.

It’s not impossible that the Trib didn’t find out about the fake fix until the same time Monday morning as the legislators who felt thrown under the bus and then – if you believe what you are being told – not only decided to lie there but also decided to help drive the bus over themselves.  Just completely implausible.  I think the Trib knew about the deal to pass the bill by Sunday night at the latest.  Being on Foxley & Pignanelli’s client roster (Utah Media Coalition, Utah Press Association), why wouldn’t they?

The ad that didn’t run

Let’s consider for a moment the ad the Tribune could have run but didn’t.  Instead of heralding the governor’s slithering out the back door as a “break in the clouds,” the Tribune could have run an ad that said “Hey!  Where do you think you’re going?  Grow a pair and pick up the veto pen!”  Well, not that exactly – we’re in Utah after all – but something like it.  The “break in the clouds” is your tipoff.  The Tribune actually saw this – the passing of the bill with a promise to tweak it later – as a good thing.  Who would have sold them on that idea?  There are your Foxley/Pignanelli* teethmarks.

Plus, Foxley and Pignanelli are veterans of the 2000 holy war over HB 320 which granted a bonanza to the utilities by depriving citizens of representation in ratemaking.  Lots of people have forgotten, but I’m guessing these two haven’t, and they know perfectly well that the strategy on HB 477 is nothing new, because it’s exactly the same as that for 320.  HB 320 was passed with a delayed enactment date, fake negotiations ensued, and the bill became law, as planned.  After a HUGE fight, it was repealed, a miraculous event that will not be repeated here because a very different crew is in control now, Utah’s homegrown Taliban.  They Don’t Care What You Want.

Roadkill

So I take back what I said about Pignanelli pretend negotiating on HB 477 between now and July.  (Not the part about being a cream puff though.)  I think all the negotiating was done by last weekend, and Herbert is really a bigger fool than most people already assume.  By accepting the “break in the clouds” presented to him as his escape route, he managed to alienate both sides – the legislative wingnuts who are were his core support, and the public that was (and remains) pissed off with him to begin with.  The wingnuts may say they feel thrown under the bus, but when all is said and done, they’ll get their bill.  The real roadkill will be Herbert.

Herbert, and the public’s right to government transparency.  The really sad thing is that if my hunch is correct, it wasn’t even the governor who sold out the public but the Salt Lake Tribune and its crack lobbying team.  And now they have the nerve to suggest that the public fix what they screwed up?  That takes balls.

* Doug Foxley and Frank Pignanelli are Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough alumni who run a Republican/Democrat lobbying firm a la Matalin/Carville, Foxley being Matalin and Pignanelli being Carville.  Without the humor.  The genius behind such a pairing is the ability to play both sides down the middle.