Sunday, November 25, 2007


Is Romney’s Business Background A Blessing Or A Curse?

(Published by the Des Moines Register & Salt Lake Tribune Nov 2007)

Mitt Romney’s road to the White House looks like one of those roads most of us have traveled at one time or another. It starts out straight, paved and comfortable but later degenerates into sharp turns, untenable sand and jarring washboards. Quite often one either ends up in the ditch or concedes defeat and turns tail for home.

Fortunately for Romney, a better road is available. But to find it, he needs to accomplish two objectives. First, he must convince social conservatives his flip-flop on abortion is sincere and complete. And, second, he must gracefully illuminate the religious intolerance of those who disparage his Mormon faith. Unfortunately for Romney—perhaps especially for Romney—it might be a very difficult challenge.

It’s often true that our greatest strengths are also are greatest weaknesses. And so it is with Romney. His admirable record of accomplishment in the business world was enabled by the application of analytical skills and business acumen he acquired as a consultant and executive of Bain Consulting and later Bain Capital.

But something else Romney acquired from Bain—dispassionate detachment—makes for a rough campaign road. Anyone who has worked with consultancies and investors like Bain would likely acknowledge they are hired primarily for their minds, analytical skills and access to capital—not their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong. They aren’t heartless. It’s just that the job requires them to keep their hearts in check so tough business decisions—even painful layoffs—are considered.

Dispassionate detachment is necessary in the consulting and investment worlds, but it can be a fatal liability in the political world. In fact, the opposite approach —passionate authenticity—is often more attractive to voters.

There are many examples of this phenomenon, but Ronald Reagan is probably the best case in point. Many voters disliked some of what Reagan stood for but voted for him anyway because they liked the fact that he actually stood for something. They believed Reagan not only because of what he said and did, but also because of how he said it. To many it seemed Reagan’s heart, mind, words and actions were all in-sync.

For example, when Reagan was angry—like the time he scuttled an attempt to shut off a debate microphone because he “paid for this microphone!”—most viewers felt his anger. Or when he grieved—as in delivering the eulogy for those who perished in the unfortunate explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger—most viewers felt his grief.

The list of authentic Reagan moments could go on and on. Opponents claimed it was good acting. Voters overwhelmingly decided it was authenticity.

That’s the kind of connection Romney needs to make with voters. If he isn’t able to authentically communicate genuine remorse for his previous support of abortion rights and rock-solid conviction to his pro-life conversion he won’t overcome the fear of pandering on abortion. His oft delivered dispassionate statement that other pro-life Republicans reversed field on abortion is true but unconvincing.

Likewise, when his Mormon faith is questioned, it isn’t enough to stoically deflect the subject. I think most Americans expect that Romney should be deeply disappointed by such religious intolerance and even angered by those who characterize a substantial and legitimate Christian denomination as an unworthy non-Christian cult. An expression of true disappointment and anger from Romney would clearly be in order and would do much to turn the tables on those who denigrate his faith.

Is Romney capable of making that kind of connection with voters? Only Romney can answer that question. But if he can’t make the transformation from talking about Reagan to talking like Reagan his campaign could end up conceding defeat to a rough road and turning tail for home.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Real Choice For A Change In St. George City Council Race

(Published by the Salt Lake Tribune & the Spectrum October 2007)

For the first time in a long time, the St. George city council race is just that—a real race.

In recent elections the powers of incumbency and name recognition ensured the nearly automatic reelection of long-serving council members or designated replacements. But this time around, not one current council member will appear on the ballot.

Though no incumbent is running, three candidates—Jon Pike, Gilbert Almquist and Gloria Shakespeare—are pressed from the same mold as nearly every council member elected in recent memory. All are involved in businesses that benefit financially from growth. Pike is an executive with mega-employer Intermountain Healthcare. Almquist owns a local landscaping business. Shakespeare’s maiden name is Hurst. Her extended family owns the Hurst Ace Hardware chain.

The three are also deeply entrenched in the good old boys and girls club that has enjoyed a long-time hold on local offices. The mayor and council have kept this stranglehold in place by appointing members of the club to visible and important city committees, endowing them with name recognition that helps tremendously when they later seek election to the council. Pike is the appointed chairman of the city’s Arts Commission and former chair of the Chamber of Commerce. Almquist is the current chairman and sixteen year member of the city’s pervasively influential Planning Commission. Shakespeare is the volunteer head of the neighborhood enhancement committee. Her brother and sister-in-law are appointed members of the Water and Power Board.

The other three candidates— Benjamin Nickle, Ed Baca and Steven Swann—are certainly not members of the club. None of the three are involved in businesses that benefit from growth. Nickle is a manager at a youth crisis center. Baca is a retired law enforcement officer. Swann is an information technology consultant whose clients are primarily far from St. George. None have received appointments to city committees.

Given these differences it’s not difficult to understand why the two trios are on opposite sides of the two primary issues of concern in St. George—growth and illegal immigration.

Pike, Almquist and Shakespeare give lip service to doing a better job of managing growth and illegal immigration. Business associates have filled their campaign coffers with contributions to ensure this arguably disingenuous message gets out via radio and print. The trio has collectively amassed a financial war chest more than 3.5 times that of their three opponents. At least 75% of the contributions are from businesses that profit from growth and business leaders who personally share in those profits.

Ironically, this growth-funded advertising blitz is the best evidence the three won’t do anything that upsets the status quo. Their own businesses and those of many of their contributors are accustomed to the fruits of rapid growth—and in too many instances that growth is fueled by illegal laborers. And true to their “development at all costs” roots, they predictably and conveniently hide behind the slogans that “growth is inevitable” and illegal immigration is a problem “only politicians in Washington D.C. can solve.”

On the other hand, Nickle, Baca and Swann have nothing to gain personally by growth, and aren’t beholden to the local business coalition. All three have taken a pledge to implement local immigration policies similar to those recently implemented in Arizona and Oklahoma that punish local employers who hire illegal laborers—which we all know is the root cause of the illegal immigration problem.

So will St. George voters choose to keep the good old boys and girls club in charge? I don’t know, but I’m glad they have a clear choice for a change.

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