Robert Gehrke looked into Utah’s future for 2022, here’s what he saw

From redistricting to Mitt Romney and the Real Housewives, Robert Gehrke offers up his annual predictions for 2022.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Like every year around this time, I spent last weekend lighting incense and sage, reading tea leaves, consulting the cards and shaking a magic eight ball.

I even killed a chicken in an attempt to divine what lies ahead for Utah in 2022.

OK. It was a chicken sandwich, and I ate it. The point is I’m committed to helping each of you brace for what lies ahead in the coming year.

First, a recap of my 2021 predictions, wherein it was foretold that former President Donald Trump would spend the year ranting, airing grievances and just generally Trumping (nailed it); the Legislature would ignore the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission and gerrymander Salt Lake County (of course); President Joe Biden would restore Utah’s national monuments and the state would sue (yep); and selfish vaccine deniers would prolong the pandemic (and, boy, have they ever!).

I also predicted Sen. Mitt Romney would be key if Congress is to get anything done (see also: the infrastructure bill); the Legislature would avoid large-scale tax reform, Rep. Burgess Owens would say something weird and embarrassing (a freebie, really).

There were a couple misses. I didn’t think Democrats could win both Georgia Senate elections and hopefully nobody lost too much money on my prediction that the Utah Jazz would make the Western Conference Finals (they lost in the semis).

Still, a decent record proving I’m becoming more attuned to the universe. So as long as the microchips in my vaccines don’t cause too much interference, here’s what lies ahead for 2022.

Winning, but not easi-Lee

From the “Hope I’m Wrong” files, Sen. Mike Lee will be reelected.

I’ve said before that Ally Isom and former Rep. Becky Edwards are good candidates and would be a big improvement over Lee, but Lee is popular with the Republican fundamentalist wing and beating him will be very hard, especially if they split the dissident vote. I don’t see either challenger dropping out at this point.

On paper, the case can be made that anti-Trump independent challenger Evan McMullin has a shot at beating Lee, but it feels a little like hitting a hole-in-one while blindfolded. He’ll put up a good fight, but despite clear differences between Lee and McMullin, he’ll fail to win over the Democrats who see it as trading Lee for another Republican.

Reaping redistricting rewards

On the heels of redistricting, Republicans will win the U.S. House but I think Democrats manage to barely hold onto the Senate — if you consider what they have now is “hold” of the Senate. The split Congress means nothing will get done and Biden’s presidency will be mostly inconsequential.

Better Boundaries is still sending emails soliciting money for a potential lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s redistricting, but my magic eight ball doesn’t foresee them actually pulling the trigger. The Legislature won’t gut the independent commission, at least not right away. They have nine years to do it and voters have short memories. Utah Democrats will lose two House seats in the redrawn boundaries.

Eyes on elections

The right-wing activists pushing a ballot initiative with a slew of terrible ideas to make voting harder — clamping down on registration, doing away with mail-in and early voting and returning to hand-marked paper ballots — won’t even come close to making it onto the ballot. The Legislature’s audit of Utah’s voting system will come back squeaky clean, proving state elections are on the up-and-up. That won’t matter to the aforementioned tin-foil hat crowd. And, despite positive reviews from voters, ranked-choice voting won’t be expanded (at the behest of Mike Lee).

... and the rest

• Utah will experience another severe drought, which obvious since we’ve had drought for the last 25 years. Lakes and reservoirs will remain low and big fires will burn. But some initial, overdue steps will be taken on water conservation.

• Faced with a bevy of rights lost for transgender Utahns, critical race theory and anti-government bills, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and the recently formed Silicon Slopes political action committee will be pushed into a prominent role as the voices of reason and perhaps provide a little cover for Gov. Spencer Cox to push back against the Legislature.

• One of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City will file for divorce, but it won’t be the one you expect!

• In the sports world, THE University of Utah will shock THE Ohio State in THE Rose Bowl; this time the Jazz really will make the Western Conference Finals; Salt Lake City will take a shot at hosting the 2030 Winter Olympics; and my Detroit Lions will make the playoffs next season (no, really).

• This one is more a wish than a prediction, but we will finally put COVID-19 in our rearview mirrors (mostly) and we can stop caring what anti-vaxxers or anti-maskers or conspiracy mongers think. We can return to some semblance of pre-pandemic life, filled with some well-earned peace and prosperity.

Happy 2022!

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