I received a megaphone and pamphlet in the mail today from Jon Huntman Jr. inviting me to an Ice Cream Social with Jon to talk about Utah issues. Seems like Jon is going to be in the race without waiting for Leavitt to announce. Of course, Huntman has enough money to do this and back off later with no harm done.
Val Oveson is the newest CIO in Utah. A story in today's Salt Lake Tribune alleges that he has responsibility for a bungled IT system while he was at Tax and raises the question of a possible conflict of interest with respect to his oversight of the system and the next job he got.
I think its fascinating how IT is suddenly something the papers are covering with some regularity. This story isn't anything that hasn't been known for years, so its interesting that its being raised now. I doubt that Dan Harrie just woke up one morning and thought "let's check in on that IT system screw-up at Tax." Someone's after Oveson and its being played pretty well. This is more subtle than the usual tricks played in ITS. Looks like legislative staff work to me. North is the direction I'd look.
The Legislative Auditor General release several audits this week. The one that seemed to cause the most press was one that audited the payment of bonuses to state workers. The Deseret News is reporting that several state agencies will halt paying bonuses all together.
There were abuses to be sure. The audit, for example, cites on instance where someone was paid a bonus for "putting paper in the copy machine." And in some agencies, nearly 100% of the employees received a bonus. In times when there are no pay raises, its tempting for managers to find some way to reward their employees. Unfortunately, the public sector manager often has trouble participating in the kind of discrimination that rewards only good employees. Its easier to just reward everyone.
It appears that the cure will be worse than the disease, however. Instead of trying to fix the bonus program and turn it into an effective manager tool, many agencies are simply scrapping it all together. This is a shame. There are already too few ways for managers to reward public employees for a job well done. The better response would be one where managers are given a budget for bonuses, training in how to reward employees, and guidelines about what kinds of things should be rewarded. A quota on the percentage of employees in any one department who are eligible would force managers to pick the best.
The public sector tends to even everything out when it comes to employees. Everyone should make close to the same salary, everyone ought to have the same opportunities, and everyone ought to get a little bonus instead of just the stars getting larger bonuses. This is in stark contrast to the private sector. To a public sector manager, the most important factor in treating employees is fairness, not productivity.
The Salt Lake Tribune is carrying a story alleging Governor Leavitt's plausible conflict of interest concerning the Worker's Compensation Fund. Interesting that no one questioned this until the Governor made the legislature angry by talking with the media about his plans for WCF before discussing them with the legislature. This is a classic smear job full of allegations, plausibilities, innuendo, and very short on fact. This is a typical politic move designed to put pressure on Leavitt to pull punches and step out of the game so that the legislature can roll him. It makes Leavitt less effective. It will be interesting to see if he puts his approval rating on the line and pushes for what he thinks is right here or whether he takes the less risky route and gives in.
I believe that some things are evil.
I believe that stopping evil is something worth fighting for.
When I read this story about the victims of torture in Iraq I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes to think that the world was willing to let that kind of sadistic behavior continue and just sit and pass resolution after resolution. The same people who are continually ask "where's the weapons of mass destruction" beat their chests and howl at the inhumanity of Hitler. Were we wrong to stop Hitler? No one would dare argue otherwise. Similarly, we were not wrong to stop Saddam.
Governor Mike Leavitt is a very popular politician. His approval rating hovers around 70% most of the time. He rarely takes the old approval rating around the block for a spin however, preferring to work his magic through good old-fashioned politics. Occasionally, on an issue that seems particularly hot or one that he knows will get significant legislative pushback, he goes directly to the public and enlists them in his cause.
This week Leavitt unveiled his plans for privatizing the worker's compensation fund. WCF of Utah would like to be private, allowing them to go after business in other states. The State has a significant interest in WCF, having been one of the largest backers of the fund over the years. The question is not should they be private---most probably agree that its a good idea. The question is how much they should compensate the State and what should be done with that money. Undoubtedly, the Governor would like to invest it in some new plan to "build a brighter future for Utah." The legislature would likely use it to fix pot-holes or something. There's a serious lack of vision in that group.
So, it seems that the Governor has decided to take his case to the media and the public and try to start momentum growing before the legislature can get their feet under them. If you've got a 70% approval rating, you might as well use it for something.
This is old news to many of us who work on Capitol Hill each day, but Senator Dave Steele has resigned his Senate seat. Steele was a long-time eGovernment player in Utah, although in recent years his leadership of the ITC had not yielded much fruit. I'd heard that Senate leadership wasn't very happy about that and so I wasn't surprised when he didn't retain leadership of the newly created UTC. This change in leadership could give Richard North, of the Legislative Research staff, greater power and leverage. Word was that Steele kept some of North's wild-eyed tendencies in check. For example, North tried to appoint himself "Executive Director" of the ITC several years ago with a change to the committee's stationary and was slapped down. I hope the new committee leadership has been briefed on his antics.
This article in the NY Times talks about the devil's highway, so called because its official designation is Highway 666. Highway 666 begins in Gallup NM and ends in Monticello Utah. The article says that officials in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah wanted the name changed because bad associations with the name are hurting the economic vitality of the area. I don't know if you've ever been to Monticello, but somehow, I doubt its the highway that's the problem.
For the last week, you can hardly turn on NPR without hearing an interview with Hillary Clinton about her new book. I also saw her on today. Most of the NPR "interviewers" lob these incredible softballs at her just hoping she'll knock them out of the park. Of course the favorite topic is always Bill's little indiscretion.
What's fascinating to me about this is that she has the myth down pat. She constantly talks about "private matters" without ever acknowledging that what Bill did was by any stretch of the imagination sexual harassment and that any other executive in America would have certainly lost their job and been subject to civil, if not criminal, action if they'd behaved in the same way. On top of that, he lied about it to a Grand Jury. That's hardly a personal matter.
Today's Salt Lake Tribune carried an op-ed piece on conflict of interest for public employees. The conclusion is that public employees will regulate more honestly when they have made all their conflicts of interest public. I guess this begs the question of whether or not such disclosure will be taken into account by their boss or anyone else. Merely disclosing conflicts of interest doesn't go far enough if no one ever makes an effort to review them. There aren't many of these forms on file in Utah State government and I guess the question is whether or not there's been much harm. Are the citizens of Utah substantially worse off because of this omission? Should they then invest public money in solving the problem?
I think that we should look at who would benefit the most from such disclosure: the press. There's all kinds of opportunity for the press to suggest wrong doing and question motives if this kind of information were more widely collected. That will sell more papers and that's what counts. I guess public employees aren't the only one's with a conflict of interest. Maybe the press should publically disclose this information about themselves as well? That way we could all more effectively judge who's stories to believe. Of course, the press has never been one to favor a two-way street.
Last week, I commented on Leavitt's possibly running for a fourth term as Governor of Utah. Today, the Deseret News carries a story entitled Leavitt Gearing Up for Fourth Term. The article reports recent fund raising activities, but I don't think you can conclude from them that Leavitt will run again. In fact, I think they show a shrewd politician who's keeping his options open.
Politics is a game of opportunity: you have to be properly positioned when a window opens up and then move fast. Leavitt's trying to position himself for (a) a Federal office (even though Bennett says he's running again, he's no spring chicken and things could turn around there in a heartbeat), (b) a position in the Bush cabinet (there his opportunity depends on Bush winning and someone stepping aside from a Cabinet job that has appeal, or (c) a fourth term. If the fourth term were the most appealing thing, he'd just announce and close the door on options (a) and (b). The fact that he hasn't done so indicates to me that its not his preference.
The real problem is that he may have to give up the Governorship before the next opportunity comes along. The Oquirrh Institute has always seemed to me to be designed with that very eventuality in mind. Even though, according to Walker, the Governor would "get bored" running it, its purpose is not a landing spot for a long term career as much as a way to continue to have a bully pulpit in-between stints in public office. The Governor is the best funded politician in Utah and that provides the opportunity to weather out-of-office interludes without being out of the public eye.