Posts Tagged ‘Utah’

Cowering Donkeys

Utah Democrats demonstrate their primary skill: acquiescence.

Resolutions carry pretty much no practical weight, yet they can offer the chance to deliver strong rhetorical punches. Running them is a strategy that Republican legislators, especially those struggling to distinguish themselves, embrace annually. Democrats, however, flail helplessly to get completely innocuous resolutions pass, and then let most of the Republican-sponsored resolutions sail through, even when they are being run for nothing more than partisan bombast.

To wit, Tuesday morning’s House Government Operations Committee. First on tap for resolutions, HJR20. Simply put, it encourages—but does not require—school districts to build “green” buildings that will save energy, money and potentially make kids healthier.

Simple, right? Wrong. Because it’s sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mark Wheatley of Murray, Republican committee members took it to task. Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, zeroed in on the inclusion of the word “climate” in the resolution, even though the phrase “climate change” was not used. Instead, the bill reads “current climate and energy challenges,” which is pretty non-debatable, considering that the Utah climate, changing or not, forces schools to deal with both extreme heat and extreme cold. And energy challenges are obvious, and are one of the primary reasons for the opposition to carbon regulation (Drill, baby!).

What does Wheatley do? Tells the committee he probably should have avoided the word “climate” in the resolution, and then agrees to take it out.

Other committee members take up the climate issue, but also fret about the added cost of building green schools. Quick test, to see if anyone remembers what they read three paragraphs ago: Will the resolution require green buildings?


Yet how does Wheatley respond? By explaining that green buildings only cost 2 to 3 percent more to build, but will save $100,000 dollars per building, if not more. Good start, except when asked how much an average school costs to build — the most obvious question to his assertion — he doesn’t know.

That’s right. Doesn’t know what is probably the most basic fact that should be known. Hell, make up a number, throw out an average. Do something.

Somehow, the resolution passed, but not without dissenting votes.

Later in the meeting, Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, brought her HCR2 to the committee. This is one of the many state’s rights bill/10th Amendment bills that are the rage for conservatives around the country. It basically tells the federal government to get the hell out the state business.

Not coincidentally, they are telling the federal government to butt out when it’s run by a Democrat. So, it should be construed as a direct shot at the Democratic Party. Even if Utah Democrats don’t like to align themselves with the national party on a lot of issues, they should treat it like a family. It’s fine for them to criticize each other, but if outsiders start throwing stones, there will be hell to pay.

Except, there wasn’t. After some great cheerleading from Republican committee members and a Founding Father lecture from Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, the bill passed unanimously.


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Global warming claims get legislators hot and bothered.

Climate change happens, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. What is not happening, however, is a definitive reason attributable to man.

People, put down the pitchforks, at least the ones pointed at me. That’s not my argument, that’s the argument made by Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden, in pushing HJR12. That resolution urges the Environmental Protection Agency to step away from regulating greenhouse gases as pollutants. It also originally referenced “tricks” played to support the global warming “conspiracy,” although that was amended.

The resolution passed the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday morning, with only Rep. Phil Riesen, R-Salt Lake, voting against it.

First off, a little legislative education: resolutions mean nothing. Squat. They sound good and are great ways for mid-level legislators with a passion for a specific issue to rally their troops. Resolutions are also great time wasters, as evidenced by the 75 minutes spent by the committee railing against climate change.

Resolutions, however, make great political theater. And this debate was no exception. In short, here’s the highlights:

  1. Gibson says that those who believe that man is causing global warming don’t want to hear opposing viewpoints. They also get emotional, which makes debate difficult. “When we become so emotional, the facts get lost. Too many times, when facts are presented on the other side, they are ignored by the so-called experts.” He also said that the proponents of CO2 caps rely too heavily on “sky is falling” arguments.
  2. Randy Parker, Utah Farm Bureau chief executive officer, then tells the committee that, in fact, the sky is essentially falling because of proposed taxes taxes on CO2 production. “It will create energy shortages and will, in fact, create food shortages.” Also, “alarmists have hijacked the debate,” which apparently angers alarmists on the other side of the debate, like Parker. He also references the “global warming credibility crisis,” and points to leaked e-mails as proof that this whole global warming issue is a sham. Taking a left turn into Messin’ With The Big Dog Land, Parker spends a few minutes smacking around BYU professors who questioned a scientist who testified in 2009 to the committee, and demands that BYU apologize for the professors. Finally, he gets to the real heart of the matter: cow farts. Don’t tax them.
  3. (Note: At this point, we’re about 30 minutes into the hearing). Gibson and Parker expand on threat to farmers if cow farts are, indeed, taxed and energy prices rise due to the CO2 taxes, since farming cannot happen without using lots of coal power or fuel. Parker drives the nail home by asking, “Do Americans really want to rely on China, Mexico, and India to meet their basic needs?” In other words, the sky is falling, and it will suck for Americans when they have to climb the gigantic wall on the Mexican border to meet said basic needs.
  4. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, asks a question. Well, he’s supposed to. He basically rants about … well, the sky falling. And global warming (human-caused) is a conspiracy that the weather is disproving.
  5. Riesen also asks a question, sort of. He talks about how he wants to protect Earth and air for future generations, because he will die in the next 20 years (but will live forever as the voice on Trax trains … that is him, right?). I’d love to say he ranted, but he doesn’t rant. (In fact, nobody rants like Noel, which is actually a skill I highly admire. He is really a Utah Republican version of Lewis Black.)
  6. Gibson says that what he really wants is substantive debate where everyone gets a chance to air their opinions on global warming. By the way, at this point, he has had the floor (which he shared with Parker) for almost an hour.
  7. Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, the committee chair, asks for public comment. He also reminds the public that the committee is running out of time, so they need to keep their comments “short and concise.” You know, for the sake of debate.
  8. The public speaks, including a U. engineering professor who introduces the other side of the global warming debate into the mix with, well, blah blah blah (everyone has heard the reasons, right?) That, however, only incites another Noel rant that is, sadly, cut short by Mathis. Also, a couple of other industry folks who support the resolution testify.
  9. Noel rants, again. This time, it’s about why the global warming research is part of a deep conspiracy. The committee, running out of time, soon passes the resolution.

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SMILEY.jpgBlooming Legislation

Capturing rainwater is an easy “green” renovation for homeowners. It’s also illegal in Utah, something Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, wants to change. On Feb. 1, the Senate approved his bill with a 25-2 vote, which would allow property owners to collect up to 2,500 gallons of rainwater on their property for use on that same property. Senate Bill 32 now moves to the House, where Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corrinne, a farmer, has said he wants to amend it to require people collecting rainwater to register with the state. However, this is an important issue for Jenkins, whose clout as majority leader will likely trump objections from so-called small-government conservatives like Ferry.

SAD.jpgSenior Moment
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-Pluto (er, West Jordan), has apparently decided that education—at least, the senior year of high school—is wasted on the youth. In Buttars mind, the 12th grade is just one big party and should be canceled so that those ne’er-do-well seniors can do something useful with their time. (Exactly what Buttars thinks 17- and 18-year-olds would do with more free time isn’t clear.) Buttars actually suggested this informally prior to the start of the 2010 Legislature, but at the time it seemed so outlandish that seasoned political observers (read: me) assumed that Buttars had said it after (accidentally, of course) living life more elevated than the Mormon Word of Wisdom allows. During a Feb. 1 budget subcommittee, however, Buttars expanded on his idea and promised a bill to accomplish it. Cutting the 12th grade would save the state $102 million, which, if passed, would mean that no other state funds education as piss-poorly as Utah.

SMILEY.jpgThe Weis Stuff
John Weis might not be the next congressman from Utah’s 2nd District, currently held by a kinda-Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson. But he will be a challenger within the Democratic Party to Matheson, who is typically anointed as the candidate without question. Weis was selected as the “Citizen’s Candidate” by a panel of liberal political activists on Jan. 30 at the Salt Lake City Main Library after responding to a Craigslist ad. Weis, an immunology professor and researcher at the U of U, describes himself as a married father of two who is a gay marriage supporter, outdoor enthusiast and “logical” thinker. In response to the challenge, Matheson organized another conference call with people who love and adore him.

Originally published in the Feb. 4, 2010 City Weekly.

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Nixing Nicotine

The e-cigarette is touted as the healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, at least if the marketing is to believed. For at least some current e-cig users, the marketing is not a lie.

Brian Anderson told the House Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday morning that the e-cigs, which are essentially inhaled shots of nicotine, have given him the best shot at escaping cigarettes and their harmful additives.

“I found a way to get away from cigarettes,” he said. “I feel healthier because I’m not getting the tar and carcinogens.”

Anderson and few other citizen activists went to the Legislature Tuesday to testify against HB71, which would ban new tobacco and nicotine products. That includes e-cigarettes and what the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, described as flavored tobacco candies.

Ray said those candies are intended to bring in a new generation of tobacco users, by appealing to kids and teenagers who find smoking distasteful.

At one point, Ray even compared the tobacco companies to terrorist organizations — an analogy that is probably appreciated by all of those legislators who accept political donations from said tobacco organizations, aka Al-Ciga — and said that “if terrorist organizations were killing as many people as tobacco companies in a year, there would be all-out war.”

Note: At this point, it’s probably fair to point out that, in fact, the U.S. is at war with terrorists, and has been for quite a few years. His confusion may understandably have stemmed from the fact that for most of that time, it has been called the “War on Terror.”

The bill eventually passed the committee, with the ban on selling e-cigarettes firmly in place (possession will still be legal). There is a caveat, however, that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the e-cigs, they automatically become legal to buy in Utah.

During public testimony, however, another citizen lobbyist told the committee that the dangers of cigarettes are the chemicals, which e-cigs eliminated. Joyce Mitchell urged them to consider how they could help smokers and others, since e-cigs don’t have nasty side effects like secondhand smoke.

“Nicotine is being horriblized (sic) here. It does reduce aggression and anxiety and improves mood and alertness,” she said during public testimony. “They’re a pharmaceutical that you can take for yourself.”

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Persecuted Mormons

Two front-page stories in Salt Lake City’s daily newspapers on a speech by LDS elder Dallin Oaks provides a stark example of the failures of the Deseret News as a news organization.

In the Trib’s story, they zero in (appropriately) on a comparison that Oaks made to the backlash against Mormons for the anti-gay rights positions to the bloody, and often deadly, abuse blacks suffered during the civil rights fight.

In the Deseret News advertorial, the speech is essentially reprinted with transitions added to give it the semblance of a news story. There is no balance, no response. Even more interestingly, the article does not even mention the comparison to the persecution of blacks in the South, nor does the sidebar reprinting of his summary where he made the comparison.

The article was written by Scott Taylor, a veteran reporter at the Deseret News who, until relocating to the newsroom and the religion beat a few months ago, was writing for Church News. A quick tip for readers, quite frankly, is to simply read anything written by Taylor with a skeptical eye.

While disappointing, this is what readers should now expect from the Deseret News on certain issues, most notably gay rights and the LDS Church. Their coverage will be slanted.

This is not to say the Deseret News will be slanted. On 95 percent of the issues, they will be balanced and, in my opinion, often a better newspaper (especially with lots of anecdotal leads!). But on 5 percent of the issues, they will not be balanced, which sullies the respect for the other 95 percent of the news.

Oh, and that 95/5 split mentioned above? Not my numbers, but the numbers told to me and others by Editor-in-Chief and Pulitzer Prize-winning READER of the Deseret News, Joe Cannon, and managing editor Rick Hall. It was an oft-repeated defense for their censorship of Prop 8 news when I was at the Deseret News as an editor.

A small irony in all of this is that the LDS Church’s Bureau of Righteous Thought, in their press release summary of the speech, highlights the comparison of criticism of the LDS Church to persecution of blacks in the South. Besides further proving the idiocy of the Deseret News advertorial, it emphasizes that the new Deseret News editorial mission is truly coming from within the newspaper, and not from their owners at the LDS Church.

Disclosure: I worked at the Deseret News for almost a decade as a reporter and editor, and my grandfather was the chairman of the board from 1996-2006. Although I was a vocal critic of Cannon’s “More Mormon” emphasis in the last couple of years, I was not fired or forced out, but left willingly to work for City Weekly a couple of months ago.

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Herbert’s Huntsman

Soon-to-be Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a noted conservative, tabbed a well-respected moderate, Sen. Greg Bell, as his lieutenant governor Wednesday.  The selection will help Herbert is he gets to the 2010 general election, because of Bell’s support of such conservatively-reviled issues as gay rights.  Bell does not support gay marriage, but he does support at least the appearance of equality for committed gay couples, which is sometimes more than even Utah Democrats support.

Herbert has also essentially flipped the Utah administration on its head, since Bell is on the opposite end of the Republican spectrum as Herbert.  When soon-t0-be-former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman selected Herbert as his running mate in 2004, he did so to shore up the conservative base, and now Herbert is shoring up the moderate base.

I give Herbert a lot of respect, a lot of which I detail in a blog posting for City Weekly.  He has always dealt very fairly with the media, and he lets disparate voices have their say.  As the second-in-command, I fear that he will get lost, but maybe he can actually make the difference on ethical issues that I detail in the above-mentioned blog.

What Herbert/Bell will not provide Utah, however, is the national respect that Huntsman gave.  Utah will once again be a bit player on national politics, since Huntsman larger aspirations gave Utah some credence as a presidential stomping ground.  It still would not have been a state that mattered in the electoral college or Congressional elections, but the presence of Huntsman made politicians in both parties respect it.

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Democrats in Republican-dominated states such as Idaho or Utah are eternal optimists.  After every election trouncing, they still find things to raise their spirits.  Maybe they cheer the fact that they had a candidate in every single “important” race, or that they had repeat candidates who, even if they had lost multiple times, are getting name recognition and campaign experience.  Above everything, they find solace in those rare major victories around the region, dreaming of the day they can actually win the governorship or take over at least one of the legislative houses.

In the last couple of cycles, however, Western Democrats actually have reason for optimism, thanks in large part to a new breed of politician for their party’s regional standard-bearer.  These are politicals who are pro-civil unions, pro-gun, pro-environment, and pro-energy.  They support drilling for oil, but not at the expense of natural treasures.  They support gun ownership, but also realize that many people are actually scared of the deadly weapons and some places (churches and schools, especially) are not appropriate for packin’ heat.

The Western Democrat is also becoming a significant player in national politics, as evidenced by President Obama’s flirations with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for the VP slot and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s well-received speech to the Democratic National Convention.  For Democrats in those Western states, the national recognition will also mean that, more and more, they may actually have strength at the state levels.  At the very least, it means that the GOP will have to run moderates that may actually support some of the Western Democratic stances, especially on issues such as education funding or green energy initiatives.

Later this month, Democrats from around the region will gather in Denver to plot their next steps in making the mountain states two-party states. The gathering is hosted by Project New West and will feature speakers such as Robert Redford and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

Mark Barabak at Top of the Ticket (an amazing political blog run by the L.A. Times) has a post with more details on the gathering and a deeper look at the surge of the Western Democrat.

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