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SALT LAKE CITY – Aiming to bolster its political profile with lawmakers, the Utah League of Credit Unions is making its presence known this month in the crowded race for Utah governor, and in the process a key anti-CU legislator may be losing public support. In a special forum conducted by the League’s Governmental Affairs Committee, the nine candidates running for governor were invited to speak and answer questions from a leadership panel at a luncheon session slated April 14 in League offices. At least one no-show for the event was expected to be GOP House Speaker Marty Stephens, the former Zions Bank vice president and an architect of the nearly-enacted 2003 bill to tax Utah CUs. Though Stephens has tempered his anti-CU rhetoric in recent months, his pro-CU tax position earned him fierce opposition to his bid for governor from CU executives and volunteers. “We are told that Stephens has a scheduling conflict and will not be here,” said Scott F. Simpson, the president and CEO of the League. Recent polls show Stephens’ statewide support has dwindled to single digits and a factor, maintains the League, has been his anti-credit union views and close ties to the banking lobby. However, Stephens because of his financial backing and heavy advertising may still be considered “in the top three contenders,” said one top CU executive. The state’s incumbent governor, Olene Walker, also a Republican and who has been more neutral in the bank-CU fight, has maintained a slight lead in the polls with Jon Huntsman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador, also gaining ground as well as former U.S. Rep. James Hansen. Under Utah’s caucus and election rules, the list of GOP candidates is to be winnowed May 8 at the Utah GOP convention with a possible primary contest in June. The GOP winner will face Scott Matheson, slated as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in November Simpson, who knows something about GOP politics having been executive director of the Utah GOP before joining the League as a lobbyist a year ago, declined to make a prediction or state the League’s position on any of the candidates. But he said the April 14 session would be devoted to letting the industry hear candidates’ views. “We want to get them on the record exactly where they stand on taxes, field of membership and conversions,” plus other areas as well, he said. Simpson said he saw nothing extraordinary about the April 14 candidates’ meeting arguing that similar sessions had been held in the past by the League though he was unsure if all the gubernatorial candidates spoke in a group format at those. Each of the candidates will be given a half hour to speak followed by a Q&A. The Utah Bankers Association, he said, had conducted a similar candidates’ meeting three weeks earlier. Simpson, who became League CEO in December succeeding Scott Earl, said he was heartened at the heightened political activism among League members after the bruising and divisive 2002-2003 fight with the Utah Bankers Association in the legislature. That battle is expected to resume in 2005 with likely new attempts to tax CUs emanating from a banker-influenced legislative Financial Institution Task Force. Utah CUs have argued that lawmakers, in their eagerness to please bankers, are destroying the dual banking system and that the public in the long run will suffer with loss of income to state coffers. Regarding the League’s political action program, Simpson said CU leaders “are very serious” about “the future regulation of credit unions” in the state and CU executives “understand the importance of their political activity.” “We are unique in Utah,” maintained Simpson referring to what he said was the “nature of the political battle,” an apparent reference to the banking industry’s long predominant role in the legislature. House Speaker Stephens had forecast last December when he quit the Zions job, that “I wouldn’t be surprised” if CUs would be taking an active role in the governor’s race. Steven Christensen, chairman of the Utah League and president/CEO of Tooele FCU, said at one time Stephens may have tried to remain aloof from the bank/CU battle, but the perception was always prevalent he was “an adversary” carrying the torch for the UBA. -

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