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Pyle: Governors don't like shutdowns

Published October 11, 2013 6:16 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

[An apology: Last week, my column was all about how another writer's column was fatally flawed, partly because the online version of that column included no links to source material. This column, when first posted Friday evening, was devoid of links. That's been fixed. Sorry 'bout that.]

"Thou shall not speak ill of thy fellow Republican." — Ronald Reagan

With friends like Mike Lee, Republicans don't need too many enemies.

Polls, in Utah and across the country, show that the Grand Old Party in general, and Utah's junior senator in particular, are losing the battle for public opinion in the wake of the protracted federal government shutdown and the threat of a default on the full faith and credit of the United States.

The particular problem for Utah, of course, was the closure of the state's largest tourist magnets, the national parks. After 10 days of locked gates and empty hotel rooms, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (a Republican) and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (a Democrat) worked out a deal whereby the state would foot the bill and the feds would open the parks.

This came a few days after Herbert paid some lip service to the idea that President Obama is mostly to blame for the budget gridlock in Washington. Which was something he had to say as a Republican politician in good standing.

But then he ignored all that partisan palaver and worked out a deal to get the parks open and the cash registers ringing. Which is something he had to do as the governor of a state highly dependent on tourism.

The result of that deal is added evidence for the belief that the future of the Republican Party is nowhere to be seen in Washington, but is growing up in statehouses across the country.

Herbert makes no pretense about being presidential timber. But the bright lights of the party are to be found in the statehouses: Chris Christie in New Jersey, Bobby Jindal in Louisana, Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, Jan Brewer in Arizona.

Jindal called on his fellow Republicans to stop being "the stupid party." Then he refused to accept the Medicaid expansion that is key to the success of the Affordable Care Act, which was stupid. Brewer, on the other hand, earned herself enough street cred by waiving her finger at President Obama on an airport tarmac that she was powerful enough to do the right thing and accept expanded Medicaid in her state.

The really good news from all the recent fuss and bother would be if Herbert, riding the wave of good feeling for reopening the parks, would decide that he, like Brewer, now has the political inoculation necessary to also expand Medicaid in Utah.

The Republicans in Washington, meanwhile, have been chewing up the scenery by shutting down the government, threatening to default on the national debt and pretending there is not really anything wrong with either one as long as we defund Obamacare. Or cut Medicare. Or whatever ransom demand they are asking this week. Most of us, and of them, seem to have lost track.

The real blow to Republican interests apparently has come because this all happened when what should have been the big news of the week, the launch of the Obamacare online shopping exchanges, was largely overshadowed. Which was too bad for Republicans, and a stroke of luck for Obama, because the widespread failure of the online system received much less attention than it otherwise would have. The goofy thing might even be up and running — selling people real health insurance at affordable rates — by the time Ted Cruz ends his next filibuster.

Part of this is just the fact that governors, of whatever party, are very different political animals than senators. Senators debate. Governors have to govern. Get things done. Take responsibility, and action, when things break down. That's why we like governors — FDR, Reagan, Clinton, W. — to be president.

It didn't work for Mitt Romney, but that's because he denied everything he did well in Massachusetts. Jon Huntsman, though, is still looking for a new situation.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, was described as "very perceptive for a young, bearded fellow," by the first governor he met. Who also had a beard. A long time ago.

gpyle@sltrib.com.

Twitter: @debatestate