By Dan Schroeder
It’s time to admit it: Ogden has a two-party political system.
One party includes Mayor Godfrey, his department heads, city council members Johnson and Stephenson, and majorities of the Chamber of Commerce, local realtors, and the Standard-Examiner management.
The other party includes council members Wicks, Gochnour, Garcia, and Jeske, as well as majorities of the firefighter’s union, WSU faculty, and contributors to Weber County Forum.
These political parties need names, so I propose that we bring back a couple of names that I heard during the 2006 Ogden Gondola War (when Ogden’s political divide became especially apparent): Lifties and Smarties.
“Lifty”, of course, comes from “Lift Ogden”. But I don’t mean to imply that every Lifty has endorsed the specific Lift Ogden proposal to build two gondolas and sell off our foothills for commercial development. Most of them did. The rest, I’m afraid, will just have to suffer from guilt by association.
“Smarty”, similarly, comes from “Smart Growth Ogden”, the organization that was formed in reaction to Lift Ogden on a platform of preserving open space, fiscal responsibility, and open government. But today’s Smarty Party is a much broader coalition.
Although the Gondola War subsided in 2007, both parties grew and consolidated during the municipal election campaign that fall. The parties were equally visible in the just-finished city council campaign. Candidates Van Hooser and Blair, plus incumbent Garcia, were the unofficial nominees of the Smarty Party; candidates Hains, Phipps, and Garner were the Lifty nominees.
Fascinatingly, the Lifty/Smarty split seems to be completely uncorrelated with the Democrat/Republican split in state and national politics. Matthew Godfrey and Susan Van Hooser are both registered Republicans, and both are supported by prominent local Democrats (e.g., Allens and Halls).
Like the national parties, the Lifties and the Smarties don’t disagree on everything. The vast majority of city council votes are unanimous. Lifties and Smarties work side by side every day to improve our city. A few politicians (e.g., Doug Stephens and Patrick Dean), plus a large number of voters, have no strong leaning toward either party.
And like the national parties, both the Lifties and the Smarties are really coalitions of multiple interests. Over time, these coalitions will undoubtedly shift. Since no laws recognize or support a two-party system in local elections, it’s quite possible that Ogden’s current parties will prove to be ephemeral.
For now, however, both parties are held together by one man: Matthew Godfrey. Over the last ten years our mayor has pushed large numbers of Ogdenites squarely into one party or the other, by rewarding loyalty and punishing dissent at every opportunity. He strongly believes that everyone in Ogden is either with him or against him, and his actions have increasingly made that belief a reality.
Is it good or bad to have a two-party system? This system has served our nation pretty well for the last century and a half, and it’s hard to imagine a strong democracy without it. At the same time, it exacerbates polarization in our government, our communities, and sometimes our homes.
Similarly, in Ogden, the Lifty-Smarty split is both good and bad. It seems to be increasing the level of interest and participation in local politics, giving voters clearer choices. Yet just as in national politics, the increased polarization often gets in the way of progress.
Whether we love it or hate it, Ogden’s two-party system is a reality that we might as well acknowledge. It won’t go away until at least 2011.