FLASHBACK 1999: Bruce Baird ponders the electoral prospects for Gov. Mike Leavitt

Gun Rights

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In commemoration of City Weekly’s 40th anniversary, we are digging into our archives to celebrate. Each week, we FLASHBACK to a story or column from our past in honor of four decades of local alt-journalism. Whether the names and issues are familiar or new, we are grateful to have this unique newspaper to contain them all.

Title: Marty vs. Mike
Author: Bruce Baird
Date: December 9, 1999

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“Let’s get ready to ruummmmbbbllllle!”

“In the corners to my left, right and center, weighing in with poll numbers over 70 percent but only 50 pounds soaking wet, with a record of two wins by knockout over chump Democratic opponents and a hundred losses to the Republican Legislature, the champion of the ultra-cautious, the man whose legacy is one highway that will never be finished, the man who didn’t know anything about the Olympic scandal because he wasn’t here when it happened, the governor of Utah, Mike “The Windvane” Leavitt.

“And, in the Farr Farr Right corner, weighing in at an even lighter .45 caliber, with a name ID smaller than the error factor in the polls and a record of earning his current position after his opponent knocked himself out, the loud-Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, Marty ‘The Sawed-off Shotgun’ Stephens.”

The rest of the parody is too obvious and too sad to be funny—and, in the end, it won’t happen, even though the media will have great fun with it until next May. Marty Stephens can count convention delegate votes and so can the rest of the sane, disaffected ultra-right-wing nuts in the Republican Party.

So it doesn’t matter that Stephens’s whining complaints about Mikey caring far more for style than substance are mostly true. The voters like Mikey’s missionary-next-door style, and substance would make their poor little heads hurt from the uncommon experience called thinking.

That Mike is only in Utah to change planes while pursuing a national agenda also doesn’t bother the electorate. Grandstanding and globetrotting actually play to Utah’s “we’re not weird” inferiority complex, as witnessed by the ambitions of the newly remarried Queen Deedee and our constitutional savior Orrin Hatch.

It also doesn’t matter that Leavitt refuses, to his credit, to adopt the NRA’s claim of a Second Amendment right to carry small nuclear weapons into churches and schools. Even Rob Bishop, the Republican Party chairman, “gun rights” lobbyist and also potential Leavitt nemesis, knows that the vast majority of Utahns, everyone from LDS church President Hinckley to local PTA leaders, believes there should be far more stringent restrictions on the availability and use of guns.

Though a number of the delegates to the millennial convention of the Republican Party will be foaming at the mouth for “Anyone But Mike,” there is no way in hell any challenger could get the 60 percent to take Leavitt out without a primary. And in a primary Leavitt’s million-dollar war chest could buy every television spot that Jan Graham and Hatch don’t.

Since Leavitt can’t lose, no credible challenger will run against him. The only real questions will be whether the NRA’s sacrificial lamb will turn out enough kooks to force Leavitt into a primary, and whether they can kick Lt. Gov. Olene Walker off the ticket in favor of Senate President Lane Beattie. That way, if Mikey takes a cabinet job with Double-Ya Bush, they will have a real man for the top job.

So forget the speculation in the press. Next year Leavitt will be re-elected with about 65 percent of the vote against whomever the Democrats nominate—lately rumored to be former Congressman Bill Orton or state Sen. Scott Howell.

The real fireworks for the Republicans will be whether they leave Merrill Cook on the congressional ticket and lose to Jim Matheson. Another free prediction: Merrill’s toast.

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