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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) KSL talk show host Doug Wright in the KSL studios in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 21, 2011.
Doug Wright speaks to — and for — Utah’s moderates
Radio with clout » Is the popular KSL radio host an old-fashioned conservative or a flaming liberal?
First Published Mar 25 2011 03:30 pm • Last Updated Apr 13 2011 06:27 pm

It’s 10 a.m. on March 15, and in the KSL radio studio Doug Wright is interrogating, in his trademark nonconfrontational way, state Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City.

Powell has found himself in the middle of a political firestorm after apologizing in the Uintah Basin Standard for voting for HB477, a bill quickly passed in the closing days of the recent legislative session that would dramatically alter the state’s rules about releasing government records.

At a glance

Pandering or respectful? Hear the ‘big voice’

You can hear podcasts of Doug Wright’s interviews, including with Rep. Kraig Powell, here: www.ksl.com/index.php?sid=&nid=399

Mike Ridgway’s blog: mike-ridgway.blogspot.com/

Jeff Bell’s blog: jmbell.org/blog/

Coalville Save the American Republic blog: www.meetup.com/TheSTARForum/

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Powell claimed Republican House leaders "blackmailed" him into voting for the bill, which he now labels an "abomination."

Every major news agency in the state has been trying to score an interview with Powell, but they’ll have to wait until a news conference later in the day. Instead, Wright has the elusive lawmaker in his KSL studio, one on one, while political reporters can only listen, fume and comment on Twitter about the interview.

It’s the latest example of the influence Wright has developed over the years through his gentle and respectful — critics might label it "fawning" — interviewing style.

Powell joins a long line of politicians — including former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., former Rep. Chris Cannon, U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, Sen. Orrin Hatch and former Sen. Bob Bennett — who use Wright’s show as a platform to reach Utah voters.

Beyond Utah politics, the general interest talk show also takes on other local and national events, and focuses on movie reviews on Fridays.

Yet the show has become known as the premier place to announce political intentions, even for Democrats such as Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who ran for governor in 2010. Increasingly, though, Wright is becoming the go-to guy when politicians find themselves in a mess.

Gov. Gary Herbert sought sanctuary on Wright’s show a week before Powell’s mea culpa. With Wright’s help, the governor tried to explain why he failed to veto HB477, which outraged open-government supporters. Critics claim the law flies in the face of the trend toward government transparency and will conceal public business when it’s conducted by lawmakers via electronic messages.

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Pandering or respectful? » Today, despite criticism that Wright panders to politicians by lobbing softball questions, he is closing in on Powell in his homey, aw-shucks style.

Powell, stuck between angry constituents and powerful Republican party leaders, is trying to have it both ways: He maintains he voted for HB477 because he feared House leaders would kill legislation important to his district. Yet in the next breath, he backpedals, saying he never was threatened overtly.

For the record, House Speaker Becky Lockhart denies that leaders put any pressure on Powell to support HB477.

Again and again, Wright tries to nail Powell down on the lawmaker’s earlier allegations of intimidation and subterfuge. He asks: "Did you feel taken advantage of? Ramrodded? Coerced?," his string of questions wrapped in that "Utah-nice" tone that some listeners find comforting.

"There’s the absolute twisting of arms," Wright says. "Then there’s the standing-off-in-the-corner giving — it’s kind of that Mom look — hands on the hips: ‘You better get ready, I’m watching what you are doing here.’ "

Powell vacillates, and with the interview approaching its end, Wright lays out the media’s suspicions: GOP leaders seem to have "engineered" HB477 to fly through without debate or public scrutiny.

As the clock on the studio wall ticks toward the hour, Wright shifts to the tone many of his detractors find insufferable. "The thing that is still so hard for me, and pardon me, because this is an ache I have. I love this state," he says. "What does it say about our legislative process? What does it say — about our leadership?"

Outside the studio, sarcastic comments echo across the Twitterverse: "Doug Wright aches for Utah," tweets one political reporter. "I ache for everyone who had to listen to that."

‘I’m Joe Average’ » Wright’s show reaches 145,000 listeners Monday through Friday, dominating the radio dial’s 9 a.m.-to-noon time slot. The vast majority of those listeners, Wright acknowledges, likely are moderate Republican and Mormon, likely as Utah-nice as Wright’s own questioning style.

With Wright’s huge following in the middle of Utah’s political spectrum, being interviewed by "the most trusted voice in Utah" has strong appeal to politicians, says Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.

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