December 22, 2014

A Non-Sexy Way to Cut Government Spending

Zachary Derr is an attorney working at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. In his spare time he enjoys great food, skiing and rubbing shoulders with low-lifes on the disc golf course.


Speculating on ways to save taxpayer money and curb the national debt has become a bit of a national pastime. The right wants to cut “entitlement spending” and the left has their sights set on defense and tax loopholes. Everyone agrees that we should do something. We’re stuck with lots of rhetoric, line drawing and politicians who largely maintain the status quo.

State and local governments are also slashing budgets and cutting back essential public services to save money. I would like to propose an idea that is not original and won’t solve the national debt. It’s simple, has been tried and tested and may even help our obesity epidemic. The idea: turn up the thermostats in government buildings in the summer. That’s it.

During law school I worked as an intern at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. My cubicle was underneath an air conditioning vent and I found many excuses to walk around and get warm. I eventually did what others in the office did: brought a sweater. Wearing a sweater indoors in August in Washington, D.C. struck me as totally absurd. I would leave my arctic cave at the office and enter the sweltering D.C. summer heat, dripping in sweat after my bike ride home. Other folks in the office had space heaters to keep warm. Space heaters are expensive; air conditioning is expensive. Who foots the bill? We do! Would you leave all the windows in your house open in the winter and turn on a space heater? In fact, sales of space heaters across America rise during the summer, to keep chilled office workers warm under the oppressive flood of artificially cold air.

Could we as Americans sacrifice our beloved suit coats and ties for the bottom line? Japan is a conservative society where businessmen have been rumored to mow the lawn in dark suits. Japan has turned the thermostats in office buildings up to around 82 degrees in the summer and convinced the businessmen to trade in their dark suits for short-sleeved shirts. If Japan can do it, we can too. As an employee of the State of Utah, I would gladly ditch my tie and change to a short-sleeved shirt in the summer. I think the public would forgive government buildings being a little warm and having a more relaxed appearance, knowing that they were saving money.

In fact, seeing the President and Congress dawning short-sleeved shirts during the summer would show the American people that our elected officials are willing and able to do the very thing we want: make sacrifices to pull together for the benefit of the nation.

If the federal government and state and local governments turned up the thermostats in government buildings to around 82 degrees during June, July, August and September and allowed employees to dress down a bit during those months, the government would save millions, if not billions of dollars on electric bills.

My Pick for Salt Lake County Mayor: Mark Crockett, Because Experience Matters

Mark Crockett’s real world experience saving companies billions of dollars and proven conservative record serving the public trust has earned him my support for Salt Lake County Mayor.


Last week, this blog asked how much you know about your local elected officials. We get worked up about federal mandates and the national politics, but how many of us know who or much about the city or county council members that represent you here?

Cable news is full of what’s going on in Washington, D.C., but what do you know about what’s going on in City Hall?

Ironically, the skill-set for a Mayor is probably more important than that of the legislators we send back to D.C. as Congressmen and Senators. Where legislators job is to  pass laws, the job of the Mayor is, ostensibly, to manage people, zoning, utilities, facilities, and parks. There are many legislators, but there is only one mayor. The mistakes of one may be moderated by other Congressmen, but the management decisions of a Mayor are not so easy to fix or check.  And, because a Mayor’s job is more management based, it is, in many ways, a more dull and more important job.

Very important.  How the Mayor does his job impacts people daily. The roads we drive on, the sewers we need for basic public health and sanitation, the fleet of plows that issue forth as snow begins to fall, the parks and rec centers where we exercise and play, and more are the responsibility of a mayor, be it city or county. Police, fire, garbage disposal, and tree trimming, too. This is the government that we interact with daily, whether we notice it or not, and it matters. If Washington, D.C. disappeared tomorrow, it might take a few weeks or months before we see the impact, but if the police or fire or garbage trucks were gone, we would feel it immediately.

Who we elect to manage these things matters. It’s not a job for the smooth talker or the well-meaning ideologue. It’s not a position that should be learned on the job, either. The best of intentions won’t make a payroll of thousands, manage a budget of millions, efficiently allocate resources, or improve customer service and employee morale. Those are skills that must be learned over time, through experience.

That’s why my pick for the Salt Lake County Mayor’s race is Mark Crockett.  He already has that experience. Instead of making a career out of politics, Mark has made a career out of fixing large organizations. He brings people from all parts of the organization to the table and with them finds the places that money can be saved and efficiency improved. Whether it is large Fortune 500 companies like Bank of America or government agencies like the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Mark has been saving companies $10 billion a year throughout his career.

That’s money saved not through cutting staffs and salaries, but through improving efficiency, removing bottlenecks, and cutting out waste. Instead, that money can be reallocated to help the organization carry out its mission.

We are not talking about small businesses, either, but large organizations of as many as 180,000 employees. With an organization as large as Salt Lake County government, with 4,400 employees and an annual budget around $750 million, that kind of experience matters. It’s not a “learn on the job” position.

Will he–can he–do what he promises? 

Mark Crockett has made it clear that he will cut $40 million from Salt Lake County’s budget, or about 20% of the Mayor’s budget. That’s substantial. From 2005 to 2008, Mark served on the Salt Lake County Council, a part-time position. During that time, Mark proposed smaller budgets each year, and when the economy began to tank in 2008, he fought to cut 10% from the budget. As he said at the time, if families and businesses are tightening their belt, then government should, too.

No other candidate for Mayor has been in that position and proposed such dramatic cuts. He’s already proven he can walk the talk. It’s why the Salt Lake Tribune endorsed him in 2008:

“Efficient government” is a recurring theme when Salt Lake County Councilman Mark Crockett talks about his goals […] And he’s proven it’s more than a campaign motto.

Crockett, a Republican, is careful with taxpayer dollars, a wise approach as the county faces a shortfall in revenue brought on by the national slide into recession. He has worked to reform the county budgeting procedure to emphasize cost savings and better use of funds to streamline county government.

His four years experience on the council, his background as a principal with an investment fund and his council leadership positions, combined with his innate analytical skills, make him the better choice to represent District 4, which includes Millcreek, Emigration Canyon and much of the east bench.

Cutting the budget wasn’t all that Mark Crockett worked towards while on the County Council. He also spearheaded and passed ethics reforms that ended nepotism in county government. He voted against, repeatedly, subsidies for big capital projects such as the soccer stadium, and against creating special classes of individuals with special rights.  Mark worked to help unrepresented areas of the County, the unincorporated areas, to get what they need. (There may not be another candidate who understands as Mark does the issues facing unincorporated Salt Lake County and the need for a plan to prepare for the future).

It’s the record of a proven conservative, and it is born of real experience, not just practiced talking points.  Mark Crockett won’t jump ship to run for another office, but will put the public interest first. He won’t fudge the truth or mislead voters.

It’s a record that I am sure his rivals envy (and, frankly, that they’ve started to imitate his ideas in their comments says a lot about what they think of him). Most important, it’s a record the Salt Lake County needs.  It’s a record that has earned him my support and endorsement for County Mayor.

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Do you know your local elected officials?

Quiet Street in Holladay, Utah

Quiet Street in Holladay, Utah (Photo credit: Ken Lund)

Lately, I’ve been involved with a campaign that could be classified as “down ticket.” It’s not a for the US Senate or for Congress, Governor or the state legislature. It’s not even for attorney general. It’s the Salt Lake County mayor’s race, and it’s “down” the “ticket” from all of those higher profile races, even if it deals with issues near and dear to all of us.

Indeed, it may deal with stuff that we use a lot more often than some of those other offices in higher profile races. For example: libraries, rec centers, parks, snow plows, mental services, and even jails.

All of that, and more, falls under the responsibility of the Salt Lake County government. In a county that has shifted over the last few decades from rural to urban and from orchards (my neck of the woods) and horse property to wall-to-wall cities, county government has seen a lot of changes as cities have grown and expanded, bring government closer to the people.

Interestingly, though, I find few that understand or know what the county does. A few weeks back, Utah held caucus meetings to select delegates to attend county and state conventions. As we left, having just selected state and county delegates, I realized that we had spent the majority of the time discussing and debating federal issues related to the senate campaign. Some mention was made of the gubernatorial race, but only in passing. By the time we had gotten around to selecting county delegates–the ones who would select the Republican nominee  for county mayor–we were near to the end of the second hour and folks wanted to leave. Selected to be a county delegate myself, I shook hands with a neighbor who had also been selected and asked him his thoughts. His reply was revealing.

“I don’t really know what the county does,” he said. “I don’t have any idea.”

It turns out that his experience was not unique. As I have spoken with a number of delegates, very few know much about how the county works or what it does.

Do you?

As I thought about it, I realized that but for my involvement in the mayoral race, I’m not sure I would know much either. How about my city? I live in Holladay, but I couldn’t name a single member of the city council or the mayor if I was pressed.

Could there be something to this disconnect? Ask me about any number of congressmen, senators, agency heads, or even generals of the Army, and I feel like I’d be comfortable talking about them, even those with no connection to Utah. But bring up the local school board, principal of the high school (I just found out last week that he lives around the corner from me), or city council, and I’d be almost clueless.

Is it any wonder that we are so willing to turn to Washington, D.C. for solutions to problems instead of looking here in our own backyard? Is it any wonder we turn to the federal government for a solution for healthcare rather than just looking to our state governments?

I don’t know if there’s a connection, but I can’t help but wonder.

Connection or not, I’ll tell you one thing: tomorrow I’m going to look up my city council and mayor and try to learn a little about them.

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What can be learned from the White House visitor lists?

I wonder: what can we learn about the Obama White House from his visitors?

Does it matter who the President invites into the West Wing for a personal visit with himself, staff, and policy makers? Democrats sure thought it did when the Bush Administration was meeting with oil executives, and the Obama Administration has been slow to release the visitor logs during their own tenure in the White House. That tells me that they care, too, who they are seen with in their offices.

So here are the visitor logs, released over the weekend. What do you find interesting in them?


I haven’t had time to look through these very much yet, but I did notice a couple of things: if you organize by oldest entries first, two names (among others) that pop out are Jeffery Imelt and Bill Ayers.

What did you notice when you looked through the list?

[Michelle Malkin]

What is do you think the state is for?

“The state is the great fiction by which everybody tries to live at the expense of everybody else.” Frederic Bastiat


Thoughts on “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward

Cover of "Obama's Wars"

Cover of Obama's Wars

I just finished “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward. I don’t know that I feel ready to review a book by Woodward, but I do have some thoughts after reading it. [Read more…]

Tweets aside, should Utah’s attorney general be appointed?

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General, is the first in Utah history to be elected to three terms.

Should the attorney general be appointed by the chief executive of the state? Or should states continue to elect their lead legal adviser and prosecutor?

Utah, along with forty-three other states, elects the state’s attorney general in a general election along side other statewide offices, such as governor, lieutenant governor, and so on. The attorney general’s job, according to the office’s site, is to “enforce the law, provide counsel to state agencies and public officials, to work with law enforcement and protect the interests of Utah, its people, environment and resources.”

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General

Utah’s current attorney general is Mark Shurtleff, first elected in 2000 and later reelected in 2004 and 2008, the first AG in Utah history to receive three terms. Each time, he has been reelected by large margins, walking away with about 69% of the vote in 2008.

Despite this level of popularity, though, Shurtleff has not won everyone’s friendship. Further, his willingness to take campaign contributions from groups that were in the midst of prosecution has raised questions about his objectivity.

One example of this was reported in the Salt Lake City Weekly story “Called Into Question.”  A call center that pushed questionable real estate products, Mentoring for America (or MOA) was investigated and cited between 2004 and 2007 for because it “promised unrealistic guarantees to customers, sold them programs they couldn’t use and otherwise conducted deceptive trade practices.” In 2008, it was under investigation, again.

Around the same time, Shurtleff received $20,000 in donations to his campaign. According to City Weekly:

 …on Jan. 16, 2008, almost a month after it received its most recent charges from the state, MOA contributed $20,000 to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s 2008 re-election campaign. Three months after the charges were dropped by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, Shurtleff would bank another $10,000 from the company, according to MOA’s PAC report.

In total, the Shurtleff campaign received $187,000 in donations from seven Utah call centers in 2008, six of which were under investigation by the Division of Consumer Protection. The litany of complaints against MOA, and the slap on the hand that it received, is heartbreaking.

When asked about the conflict of interest created by receiving donations from people and companies that are under investigation, Shurtleff was frank and honest: it’s complicated and it’s burdensome.

He said starting to draw lines among legal donors might create a need to do background checks on all donors. “I couldn’t take money from individuals without a background check,” he said.

Shurtleff also said that he’s never had a problem prosecuting donors.

“I have prosecuted and sued companies that have given me money,” he said. “Despite all the innuendo and rumors … there has never been and never will be a documented case of pay-to-play, tit-for-tat” favors for contributions.

The Idea: Appoint the Attorney General 

Regardless of Shurtleff’s intent, it has raised the question about whether the office should stay elective or whether it should be made appointive.  Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart of St. George recently floated the idea that–to allow the attorney general to avoid the appearance of impropriety due to campaign donations–the position should be appointed by the governor, similar to how the President appoints the U.S. Attorney General.

Not only would the state attorney general be free from the need to collect campaign donations, but would also work in closer cooperation with the Governor in setting priorities.

The feds do it and it seems to make sense,” Urquhart said in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

“I also think it’s much cleaner if the guy making prosecutorial decisions isn’t out soliciting money from people who could be impacted by those decisions,” Urquhart said.

The flaw in the idea, as Shurtleff quickly pointed out, is that the attorney general needs to be a check on the executive branch, as well. By limiting the attorney general’s independence–making it responsive to the governor and the legislature instead of voters–changes the nature of the prosecutor’s office to little more than corporate counsel to the Governor.

“If there’s any misdeed or malfeasance in the executive branch then I’m responsible to the people to take action,” Shurtleff said.

Public Policy? Or a Grudge?

If this were just a policy discussion, then Sen. Urquhart would have had the legislative office attorneys look at it, he’d propose a constitutional amendment (which is what the change would require), and the state legislature would have voted on it next year.

But it’s not just a policy discussion. Apparently Steve and Mark don’t get along very well. The attorney general went ad hominem  and attributed Sen. Urquhart’s suggestion to personal ambition, not public policy.

“We know he has an interest in this job,” Shurtleff said, adding Urquhart’s only hope would be through an appointment. “I think he can’t get elected statewide.”

Never one to miss an opportunity, Sen. Urquhart had some fun with Shurtleff’s snark.

When @hollyonthehill called his bluff, asking for a picture, Urquhart folded, making a jab at Shurtleff’s accidental tweet of 2009 announcing his intention to run for the US Senate.


Jabs and accidental tweets aside, the question remains: should the attorney general be an independent elected official or should he, as in the federal system, be appointed?

Elected or Appointed, the Attorney General Should Be Impartial

Both options have merits that merit consideration and with the race to replace Mark Shurtleff kicking off this year, voters should closely examine the candidates for their willingness to maintain not only independence, but impartiality. Candidates for attorney general should be asked who their donors are and how they will be independent from influence by those donors.

While Shurtleff is correct to note that statewide races are expensive, it is also notable that he has won each race, including his first election, by margins more than 20 percent higher than his Democratic opponents. It’s hard to justify taking money from questionable donors when clearly there is not a need for it.

Further, the chief prosecutor should be above suspicion. Taking so much money from questionable donors should result in concerns by voters about the ability of the attorney general to exercise prosecutorial discretion in voters’ interests, not his own. Whether Shurtleff acts with impartiality or not becomes a moot point when so much money is accepted from so many parties that should be receiving the full inspection of the state’s chief prosecutor.

For more in the press on this issue, see also: