Medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion became law. Mitt Romney and Ben McAdams will become lawmakers.
A new Mormon prophet emerged, embracing the prophet part while eschewing the “Mormon” moniker.
A student athlete was slain on a university campus, and a Utah mayor was gunned down at an Afghan base.
A falling tree felled a firefighter while a fleeing car killed a police officer.
A small Utah county saw a big change, a sizzling housing market froze out would-be buyers, spreading flames set Utah’s forests ablaze, rising gun violence fired up Utah students, and a red-hot rookie fired up Jazz fans.
Here is a look at the leading headlines of 2018.
The grass roots
Voters sent a resounding message to Utah’s Capitol Hill: Leave the lawmaking to us.
Armed with a ballot packed with grass-roots initiatives, they turned out in numbers not seen in a midterm election in more than half a century and decided issues legislators had been either unwilling or unable to resolve.
Medical marijuana? Sure, despite opposition to this particular measure from the state’s predominant faith and force. Medicaid expansion? Sign us up, even if it was envisioned under “Obamacare.” Independent redistricting? Do it, though it could shade — and, in some places, shed — the state’s partisan red complexion.
At the same time voters were trying their hand at citizen lawmaking, they strengthened the hand of their elected representatives, giving the Legislature the power to call itself into special sessions.
And although Proposition 2’s promise of medicinal cannabis and a possible antidote to the opioid epidemic drew more total votes than any other measure or candidate on the ballot, it wound up living for all of two days. Quicker than you can say tetrahydrocannabinol, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a substitute law — backed by some Prop 2 supporters and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — with tighter controls.
So even when voters appear to have the final say, they don’t always have the last word.
Capitol gains and games
It was a Florida-worthy political brawl — a verbal-sparring, donation-guzzling, ad-blitzing campaign followed by a lingering, seesawing, nail-biting vote count.
By the time the final 4th District tally went up, the GOP stranglehold on Utah’s congressional delegation had gone down. Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams had broken through, squeezing past two-term Rep. Mia Love by 694 votes, a Beehive State contribution to the larger Democratic takeover of the U.S. House.
McAdams declared an eagerness to reach across the partisan chasm. Love, now 2-2 in 4th District races and still the only black Republican woman ever elected to Congress, did not go gentle into that political night, scolding her opponent, her party and her president.
As for the sole statewide candidate contest, it was lights out from the moment Mitt Romney, the move-in from Massachusetts, declared his desire to replace Orrin Hatch, the long-ago transplant from Pittsburgh who became the longest-serving Republican senator in history.
Romney, who himself made history six years ago as the first-ever Latter-day Saint to become a major presidential nominee, won in a walk and will enter the upper chamber nearly a quarter-century after he faltered against another Senate icon: the late Ted Kennedy.
Polls show most Utahns are eager for their soon-to-be newly seated senator to stand up to President Donald Trump. So, in an ode to Romney’s Olympic pedigree: Let the Beltway games begin.
Unleashing the Nelson era
If movement within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seemed dormant during the waning years of enfeebled President Thomas S. Monson’s tenure, that ended in 2018.
After Monson’s death at age 90 two days into the year and the ascension of apostle Russell M. Nelson, the second oldest man ever to rise to the presidency, the deluge of changes, adjustments, announcements, rescissions and reforms came at a dizzying pace.
The three-hour Sunday meeting block, home and visiting teaching, high priest groups and large-scale pageants were out. The Utah-based faith cut its ties with the Boy Scouts of America and established new ones with the NAACP.
Nelson named the faith’s first Latin American and Asian-American apostles and presided over a joyous “Be One” celebration to mark the 40th anniversary of the lifting of the priesthood and temple ban on black members. He unveiled plans to build 19 additional temples, including firsts for Russia and India and a 19th and 20th for Utah (in Layton and Washington County).
Bishops’ one-on-one interviews — controversial for their sometimes-intrusive questions about sexual conduct — were modified, and advancements in Young Men and Young women programs were hastened. Female missionaries can now wear dress slacks, and prospective proselytizers learn about their assignments by email rather than snail mail. Hallelujahs rang out when plans for a new hymnal were announced.
But perhaps most talked about was Nelson’s resolve — a push resulting, he said, from revelation — to excise the use of “Mormon” and “LDS” when referring to the church and its members. The famed Tabernacle Choir even dropped the moniker.
Although 94, the globe-trotting Nelson, a former heart surgeon, appears far from slowing down. “There is much more to come,” he vowed. “… Wait till next year. And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It’s going to be exciting.”
Lauren McCluskey was a model student athlete at the University of Utah.
On the track, the 21-year-old heptathlete (who also ranked 10th all-time at the U. in the pentathlon) was determined to run faster, jump higher and throw farther.
In the classroom, the Pullman, Wash., native (who earned All-Academic Pac-12 honors) was driven to work harder, write better and think deeper.
In her personal life (she volunteered at pet shelters and loved cats, her faith, her friends and her family), she strived to help more, share more and love more.
On Oct. 22 — almost a year to the day after another campus killing — all that persistence, purpose and promise ended when McCluskey was slain outside her campus dorm by a former boyfriend, Melvin S. Rowland, who died by suicide hours later.
McCluskey had complained repeatedly to campus and Salt Lake City police about harassment from Rowland, a paroled sex offender, in the weeks after she had learned about his past and broken off their brief relationship. Multiple investigations were launched to review law enforcement’s actions and inactions.
An independent review for the U. identified missed opportunities when police and staffers could have intervened and spelled out numerous measures to upgrade procedures, policies and training, but the school insisted there was “no reason to believe” her slaying could have been prevented. McCluskey’s parents and other observers dispute that conclusion.
Perhaps the resulting changes will help authorities pattern the drive-to-improve example McCluskey set in her all-too-short life and respond faster, work smarter and protect better.
He was more than the mayor of North Ogden; he was a public servant determined to bridge divides and build communities. He was more than a member of the Utah Transit Authority board; he was a reformer bent, against stiff opposition, on mending a troubled agency. He was more than a major in the Utah National Guard; he was a disciple of democracy, a patriot preaching the sweetness of freedom to those who have never tasted it and reminding those who have of their “precious right to vote.”
So when Brent Taylor, The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utahn of the Year, was gunned down in November during an insider attack while serving a second stint in Afghanistan — his fourth deployment overall — the 39-year-old soldier-statesman, who left behind a wife and seven children, was saluted as a hero, not for how he died but for the way he lived.
Redrock country turns blue
The shift in San Juan County’s political landscape has been as monumental as the Bears Ears designation that reshaped its natural setting.
For decades, southeastern Utah’s American Indian majority answered to white leaders. Come January, though, two new faces will usher in a new era and, presumably, new policies.
Thanks to federal court-ordered redistricting, Kenneth Maryboy and Willie — on the ballot, off the ballot and back on again — Grayeyes, both Navajo Democrats, were elected to the three-member County Commission, making San Juan the state’s first county to be governed by a nonwhite majority.
A real (estate) crisis
Don’t let all those cranes fool you. Yes, 6,650 apartments are going up in Salt Lake County. Yes, another 9,700 could follow. And, yes, starts on single-family homes shot up 25 percent this spring. But, no, the area isn’t out of its housing crunch.
Home prices are surging; supplies are lagging. The state, officials warn, finds itself in a housing “crisis.” Utah needs as many as 55,000 additional affordable dwellings.
Higher-density developments could ease if not erase the shortage, but prospective neighbors have been bucking such projects. Voters shot down Holladay Quarter — with its plans for a 775-unit high-rise apartment complex and 210 single-family homes — at the Cottonwood Mall-turned-moonscape site. Under intense pressure, county Mayor Ben McAdams vetoed Olympia Hills — with its plans to house 33,000 residents on 900 acres — near Herriman. And, in Utah County, residents recoiled at the 1,600-unit Palos Verdes complex planned near Orem’s booming Utah Valley University.
You can go home again
Love drew Josh Holt to Venezuela; lawlessness kept him there.
The Riverton man had ventured to the troubled South American nation in June 2016 to marry Thamara “Thamy” Caleno, whom he had met online.
Three weeks later, the newlyweds were imprisoned, accused of having weapons that U.S. officials suspect were planted by corrupt cops. The couple never got a court date.
Days of political pressure from Utah and Washington to win their freedom turned into weeks and then months.
Last call for first responders
A veteran firefighter and a first-year police officer died in the line of duty last year, reminding Utahns of the potential perils these first responders face.
Draper Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett was killed in August — not battling blazes in his home state but rather fighting the largest wildfire in California history. A Boeing 747 dropped retardant while flying too low over the Mendocino Complex Fire, uprooting an 87-foot tree that fell on Burchett. The 42-year-old Burchett, who had logged 20 years with the Unified Fire Authority before joining the Draper department, left behind a wife and a 6-year-old son.
In late November, South Salt Lake Police Officer David Romrell, who had been with the suburban force for 11 months, was struck by a car and killed while confronting two burglary suspects. A former Marine, the 31-year-old Romrell left behind a wife and a 4-month-old son.
Up in smoke
Dollar Ridge, Rough Canyon, Coal Hollow, Pole Creek, Ensign Peak, Bald Mountain, Black Mountain, Trail Mountain, Willow Patch, Hilltop, Moab, Herriman. These slices of Utah geography all sound innocent enough — until you plant the word “fire” after each one.
The Beehive State endured more than 1,200 wildland blazes in 2018. Flames scarred 340,000-plus acres, blackened 370 structures, cost at least $80 million to suppress and further stained the already-gray air. The toll of charred acres, burned buildings and lost lives (witness California) just keeps rising in Utah and across the West.
Forecasters expect that tragic trend to continue — and worsen — as the climate warms and forests dry out.
The state added three more women to its deepening roster of female university presidents.
Ruth Watkins became the 16th head of the state’s flagship University of Utah and its first female president, though Jerilyn McIntyre twice served as interim U. president.
Astrid Tuminez duplicated that first-ever feat at mushrooming Utah Valley University, whose student population is growing so rapidly that the Orem school now ranks as the state’s largest higher-education institution.
On the private-school side, Westminster joined the wave, naming Bethami Dobkin as the east-side Salt Lake City college’s second female president.
The three women join Utah State University’s Noelle Cockett and Salt Lake Community College’s Deneece Huftalin as barrier-busting female academic administrators. Together, they make up Utah higher ed’s mighty five.
Targeting gun violence
Weary of the scourge of school shootings and wary about their own safety in the classroom, thousands of students along the Wasatch Front staged a walkout in March in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre.
They followed up that protest with a mass March for Our Lives to the Utah Capitol, where the 8,000-strong demonstrators — pleading for action from politicians and policymakers against gun violence — ran into hundreds of counterprotesters, trumpeting the right to pack pistols and assault rifles (which many did).
For March for Our Lives organizer Wilhelmina Graff, however, the issue isn’t about the left or the right. “It’s about life and death.”
Donovan & friends
In one sensational season, Donovan Mitchell — with his crossover drives, rainbow threes and showcase slams — so captured the dreams of Jazz Nation that fans rarely, if ever, mentioned the departed Hayward.
A late lottery pick from Louisville, Mitchell averaged 20 points a game (even more in the playoffs), finished second in the NBA’s Rookie of the Year vote, won the league’s dunking contest and, along with Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, led Utah to the Western Conference semifinals.
But Mitchell has claimed more than the minds of Jazz die-hards, he’s won the hearts of Utahns everywhere. The Where’s Waldo of the NBA, he pops up at school assemblies, football games, family barbecues. He pays for a stranger’s groceries at the market and a customer’s iPhone repairs at the mall.
“I just want to do good,” he shrugs. If he combines that off-the-court goodness with on-the-court greatness, he may someday leave Jazz fans asking, “Karl who?”
And much more …
McKenna Denson accused the former president of the LDS Church’s flagship Missionary Training Center of sexual misconduct and sued the Utah-based faith as new questions emerged about the safety of the global proselytizing force. … The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City released names and dates of “credible allegations” of sexual misdeeds against 19 clergymen since 1950. … Utah’s upstart FanX, after losing a lawsuit to the granddaddy of comic conventions, grappled with sexual harassment complaints. … Sexual allegations hounded the former police chiefs of Provo and Sandy. … Utah State University’s piano program came under pressure for permitting a “pervasive culture” of sexism and abuse. … A Brigham Young University student jumped to her death on campus and a statewide task force tackled the delicate topic of suicide prevention. … Two missing Juab County teens — Riley Powell and “Breezy” Otteson — were found, allegedly murdered, in an abandoned mine. … The embattled Utah Transit Authority underwent a legislatively ordered makeover. … State lawmakers approved a last-minute measure creating an inland port in northwest Salt Lake City despite the objections of many city officials. … Wanda Barzee, who helped kidnap Elizabeth Smart, went free after serving more than 15 years behind in bars despite the warning voice of Smart, who has rebuilt her life as an advocate for sexual assault victims and gave birth to her third child, daughter Olivia, in the fall. … Utah saw 30 police shootings this year, with 19 ending in fatalities. … Chris Hill retired after serving 31 years as the University of Utah’s athletic director. … The U.’s football team bounced back from key injuries to win its first Pac-12 South title. … BYU’s basketball team found itself on probation for inappropriate benefits boosters gave to guard Nick Emery. … E-scooters from Lime and Bird landed in Salt Lake City. … Utah’s capital scored a shot at an Olympic encore, winning the U.S. bid for hosting, most likely, the 2030 Winter Games. … Pressure to pass a stronger hate-crimes law intensified after a brutal beating of father and son from Mexico at a Salt Lake City tire shop. … LGBTQ groups finally won entry into Provo’s Freedom Festival parade. … A second LoveLoud concert to benefit LGBTQ youths brought more than 30,000 fans to Rice-Eccles Stadium. … The venerable 40-year-old New Yorker Restaurant shut down … The 16-year-old survey software company Qualtrics sold for $8 billion. … Orrin Hatch, a chief defender and “great friend” of President Donald Trump, ended his record-busting 42-year Senate career and became the third Utahn (after filmmaker Robert Redford and late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley) to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.