April Fools’ Day and we’re not laughing

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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It’s April Fools’ Day, but you won’t be seeing any pranks from us. Though we’re usually a playful bunch in our approach to politics (it’s really the only way for moderates to stay sane in Utah), we’re feeling unusually sober today.

Frankly, we’re tired of being fooled.

There is a famous proverb, found in the Old Testament, that says: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much tongue-holding in Utah. We’re not suggesting that all of our elected leaders are fools. In fact, most of them are decent and well-intended. But after years of observing Utah politics, what we are suggesting is a close cousin to the Old Testament proverb: The more chatter on a topic by elected leaders, the more likely the public is being fooled.

To demonstrate this turn on the more familiar proverbial saying, allow me to recall the three most high profile discussions that have occurred in the last several months–the John Swallow scandal, Medicaid expansion, and marriage equality. As you’ll plainly see, these three issues generated enormous verbiage on the part of our elected leaders, with very little or damaging results. It is clear that, as Utahns, we’ve been fooled on each of them.

We’ve been fooled by John Swallow. Despite a nearly $4 million dollar investigation and hundreds of pages of published reports, very little has happened in the way of real ethical reform. The Republican-backed legislature has talked itself blue in the face about John Swallow. First, by going out of their way to shield Swallow, and then, by throwing him on their spears as soon as his downfall was inevitable. All this chatter has given the people of Utah the illusion that the legislature has acted without really having to do anything. Foremost among the legislature’s inaction is the continuation of unbridled campaign donations. The unlimited nature of campaign donations allowed Swallow to make all sorts of promises of influence, and they are still perfectly legal in Utah.

We’ve been fooled on Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion has yielded more policy discussion than most any other topic in the last year-and-a-half, yet Utah is still one of a handful of states that is yet to accept funds for expanding Medicaid. In 2013, the state legislature tied Governor Herbert’s hands by passing a law saying that any decision about Medicaid expansion must be approved by the state legislature. But in 2014, tasked by their own hands with making that decision, the state legislature fumbled. The House proposed a pittance, the Senate proposed a different kind of pittance, and the Governor proposed a real possibility–his Healthy Utah Plan–but even that has to be vetted by the legislature.

We’ve been fooled on marriage equality. The state authored a brief that is well over 100 pages. And despite so many errors that the state asked for a redo on its final brief (there were 90+ errors, but who’s counting), it isn’t the state’s counsel that is the fool, but the people of Utah who have been fooled. Attorneys General in states as conservative as Kentucky and Virginia, Nevada and Oregon, have all recognized the futility of defending their state’s marriage bans. But Utah is pressing on. The ultimate cost to the people of Utah will be in the millions if Utah succeeds in their efforts to push the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Though it is true that every cause deserves its day in court, the state is fooling itself–and all Utahns–on this one.

April Fools’ Day is deservedly a day for lightheartedness and playfulness–and we couldn’t agree more. But on ethics, health care, and equality, the foolishness is no laughing matter.

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