Source: The Salt Lake Tribune
Imagine Utah is a state controlled by Democrats. Hard to picture, I know, but go with me on this for the sake of seeing things from the other side. The governor is a Democrat. All four congressional representatives are Democrats. Both senators are Democrats. There are only 12 Republicans in the Utah House and only 5 in the Senate. Obviously, the leaderships in both houses of that legislative body are controlled by Democrats.
Now imagine that, although there have been years when Republicans managed to horn in for a while, Democratic control, pretty solid for a couple of decades, is now energized by a complete takeover of Congress and the White House in Washington, D.C. Democratic power is absolute, and they are going to exercise it in every way they know how.
It wasn’t always that way. Historically the state has been balanced between Democrats and Republicans, and the governorship and the leadership in the House and the Senate have tended to move back and forth. The political agreement back then — dare I call them the years of balance — was that both parties should have a “voice” that could be heard on the various boards and commissions that were created to feed information to the legislators, policymakers and ultimately the governor. This also made it possible that all of the people in the state of Utah felt like they had a voice and could be heard.
No one complained that it was impossible to find qualified people to sit on these boards and commissions. Quite the opposite was true. People of both parties were anxious to serve, and they did. As a result, governors and legislative leaders of both parties honored this tradition that was also written in law, until now. Now both the tradition, which was all about balance and recognizing the fact that Utah is a state with two parties, has almost been broken.
House Bill 11 has now passed both houses of the Utah Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature. This bill in effect changes a long tradition of having balanced political representation on boards and commissions by making it possible to nominate a full slate of Democrats to each and every one in Utah. It passed because, the argument goes, there are now serious problems finding Republicans who can serve on these boards and commissions who meet the exacting qualifications of the administration. There just aren’t enough Republicans who are qualified, and it is an inefficient regulation. The Tribune quotes the bill’s sponsor, saying this would allow them to find the most “qualified people” by avoiding “unnecessary limitations” in the candidate search.
Indeed, the very idea that anyone would object to changing the practice of giving both parties a voice on all boards and commissions was a direct attack on the integrity of the bill sponsor, according to another Democratic senator who said he was offended by such comments. In other words, the message from the Democrats to the Republicans was: “Be silent.”
And so, if you are still with me, this is how the Democrats in the 2017 Legislature have proceeded to take away every last bit of power they can see there is to take away from the Republicans, leaving them and a very large number of people in Utah with no voice at all.
How does it feel?
Karen Shepherd was the U.S. director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Utah’s Second District. She now serves on the board of the Alliance for a Better Utah.
Read The Salt Lake Tribune op-ed here