Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The First 180 Days: What Can Utahns Expect Of Salt Lake City Mayor-Elect Ralph Becker?


In what was not exactly a surprise, Utah House Democratic Minority Leader Ralph Becker (pictured at left) handily defeated Republican Salt Lake City Councilman (District 6) Dave Buhler by a 64-36 percent margin in Utah's 2007 general election held last night (November 6th). While Becker's slot in the state legislature remains to be filled, Buhler's slot on the city council was filled last night by J.T. Martin.

Click HERE to view all Utah election results.

However, once the celebration is over, the questions begin. First, what, or who exactly did Salt Lakers get in exchange for their votes? A report posted on the Salt Lake Tribune website attempts to answer that question. Stories on the Deseret Morning News, KSL Channel 5, KUTV Channel 2, and KTVX Channel 4 provide additional perspective.

First and foremost, they appear to have chosen a mayor who strives for consistency and consensus. Unlike the volatile, dogmatic Rocky Anderson, who's fired dozens of city officials during his tenure, Ralph Becker discloses that he's not fired a single employee at his private business in 20 years of operation.

"There won't be the adversarial nature that existed under Rocky," says Councilman Eric Jergensen, who notes Becker already has planned one-on-one fence-mending meetings with council members. "Frankly, that will be a very refreshing change". That theme was echoed by Patrice Arent, who served as minority whip under Becker in the legislature. "He's really so good at including people and listening to them," she said. "Ralph's a consensus builder, and he's a joy to work with". Arent further stated that Becker's hallmarks will be transparency and preparation. Arent also expects the new mayor to mollify city employees, many who languished, left or were fired under Anderson's turnover-heavy tenure.

In addition, Becker will be able to heal the sores still festering between the left-leaning capital and the GOP-dominated Legislature, according to Rep. Steve Urquhart (R-St. George). "You can expect Ralph to start building bridges and bringing people together," said Urquhart, who calls Becker a problem-solver. "It's important that the Legislature and the capital city can at least dialogue. We'll sure be able to do that better." Becker reportedly does not see the mayor's job as a stepping stone to higher elective office, which means he'll be more interested in and attentive to his mayoral duties than his predecessor. This means that when Becker goes to a national mayor's conference, he's unlikely to use it as a platform to give antiwar speeches, as Rocky Anderson did.

So now that we know about the man, what about his plan? In anticipation of victory, Ralph Becker crafted a plan for his administration in advance. To launch his tenure, he starts out with a 180-day action plan, viewable in full at his campaign website. He titles it "Education, Environment, Equality, Engagement, Excitement". Some highlights:

-- Hire a senior-level education coordinator, launch monthly school summits and create a scholarship fund.
-- Plan bikeways, implement green-building standards and unfurl a comprehensive planning-policy review.
-- Add 20 police officers and strengthen neighborhood watch.
-- Issue an executive order on his first day requiring companies that contract with the city to provide domestic-partner benefits.
-- Urge the City Council to widen the nondiscrimination ordinance and establish a registry for domestic partnerships.

While much of Becker's platform is praiseworthy and may improve the overall quality of life in the city, the last two points are of significant concern. They are a part of Becker's "Human Rights Initiative", previously discussed HERE, and, after further examination, which appear to be somewhat draconian and excessively bureaucratic. Of particular concern is his proposal to create "an enumerated list of protected classes", which I believe will have a divisive effect upon the community, inspiring possible backlash among people who are not part of those "protected classes".

And the bureaucracy attendant to this proposed initiative may be enough to scare some people away from opening up small businesses in Salt Lake City. While large corporations can easily absorb the extra expenses mandated by this initiative, small businesses lack the overhead to do so. Becker should remember that those large corporations were once small businesses, and that they started and grew because of a business-friendly climate. The Human Rights Initiative may lead the business world to question whether or not Salt Lake City is truly "open for business".

Ralph Becker is also weak on immigration. On his website, Becker correctly acknowledges that our federal laws are badly broken, making it extremely difficult for local law enforcement entities and states to intelligently address immigration issues. However, he then begins to make excuses for the illegals, sugarcoating them as "law-abiding, tax-paying individuals who want a better life for themselves and their families". Be that as it may, they still BROKE OUR LAWS to get here, and their presence here is STILL ILLEGAL. As Bill O'Reilly likes to say, you do NOT reward bad behavior.

Becker claims it is not the mayor’s job, nor that of the city’s employees such as the police, to enforce federal immigration laws. He justifies this position by explaining that doing so creates an untenable situation where people do not trust the police or other emergency service providers, which may lead to more crime, more victims, and a greater financial burden on all of us in the city. Becker is partially correct - enforcing immigration laws is NOT a primary function of a city. But it is a SECONDARY function, as a partnership between city, state, and the feds is necessary to ensure optimal enforcement of immigration laws.

As mayor, Ralph Becker pledges to advocate for comprehensive changes in immigration laws to ensure a fair and justifiable system. He doubts that such an approach constitutes the creation of a “safe haven” here in Salt Lake City. Sorry, Ralph, but that last sentence already puts you behind the power curve, buddy; OJJPAC has designated Salt Lake City a "sanctuary city" for illegals. What will you do to remove that designation, Mr. Mayor-Elect?

If Ralph Becker really wants to get off to a good start and effectively unify the city behind him, he needs to address the sanctuary city issue, and he needs to go slow on his Human Rights Initiative, or maybe reconsider it altogether. Salt Lake gays aren't exactly being herded into concentration camps - they do not need the elaborate protections and perks specified by the initiative.

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