Jonathan Thompson's brilliant article, "Red State Rising," shines some much-needed light on the paradox of politics in Utah, where government officials routinely manage economic growth and funnel subsidies to businesses -- even while professing to hate big government and love free markets (HCN, 10/29/12).
In putting a human face on this story, though, Thompson went a little too far. Matthew Godfrey, who was mayor of Ogden from 2000 through 2011, indeed illustrates the article's thesis. But it's not correct to portray Godfrey's policies or accomplishments as a departure from those of his predecessor, Glenn Mecham. It was under Mecham that Ogden built a publicly owned baseball stadium and conference center, began construction of a river parkway and a new transit hub, converted a closed Army depot into a city-owned business park, raised taxes to restore the historic Municipal Building, and lobbied for federal funds to preserve other historic buildings. Ogden's population and economy rebounded dramatically under Mecham. Ogden's use of tax-increment financing to subsidize development began even earlier.
The difference between Godfrey and his predecessors is that Godfrey draws more attention to himself. He claims that Ogden was dying before he took office, and that his big-government tactics were a bold innovation that brought the city back from the brink of ruin. Through his new consulting business, he now profits from people's belief in this narrative. I'm surprised that Thompson fell for the myth, because it undercuts his larger thesis: that government control of economic development is not the recent innovation of one energetic mayor. It has long been the prevailing approach throughout the state of Utah.