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Legislative Frustrations

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This is a blog post about good government. Maybe you think that means I’ll talk about things like fair representation, honesty, avoidance of conflicts, transparency, and the like. And yes, all of those things are important facets of good government, and they are things that the Alliance for a Better Utah and our affiliated organization, the ABU Education Fund, believe in. And if we weren’t in the middle of the legislative session, I might be writing 600 words about those things. But we ARE in the middle of our legislative session and, despite being at this work for a very long time, I am frustrated. Very, very frustrated. Maybe it’s no more frustrated than every year and I’ve just forgotten the pain over the last 11 months. I hear that’s what happens with childbirth – I’ll never know. Maybe I’m just getting older. And maybe, just maybe, I have reason to be frustrated.

So instead of focusing on what good government is, I’m stuck in front of my computer looking through the lens of what good government is NOT.

Good government, through fair representation, is NOT ignoring the will of the people. I obviously don’t mean to say that if the majority of people want to do something stupid, illegal, or unconstitutional, that any of the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of government shouldn’t step in, but look at what our legislature is doing to the currently pending ballot initiatives.

First, the legislature ignores the public will on issues including medical marijuana, school funding, redistricting, Medicaid expansion, and ballot access for candidates.

Second, the legislature has made the ballot initiative process about as hard as it is anywhere in the country, requiring signatures from 10% of the number of people who voted in the last presidential election in 26 of 29 counties – currently roughly 113,000 signatures from all over the state, knowing that this can’t be done for less than $500,000 to $1,000,000.

But third, and most importantly, once the public says we’ve had enough, and five ballot initiatives (now six, but that’s another story altogether!) are launched because the legislature has been ignoring the will of the people, now the legislature starts to take steps to undermine each and every one of them.

Good government is NOT coming to work each day and approaching your obligations to your constituents through a lens of hypocrisy. Exhibit A – Rob Porter. You know, the Utahn who recently resigned as Trump’s staff secretary. The same Rob Porter who was Orrin Hatch’s Chief of Staff. The same Rob Porter who, in 2016, penned an OpEd in the Deseret News talking about outrageous personalities and unrelenting scandals, the traditional role of the family, civil society, unchecked authority, and more. That’s strong stuff. Tugs at the heart. Makes you long for a long-lost better day. And why did Rob resign from the Trump Administration? Turns out his two ex-wives have accused him of domestic abuse. Nice.

Exhibit B – Norm Thurston. Now in fairness, we don’t know why Speaker Hughes stripped Rep. Thurston of his coveted committee vice-chairmanship because no one is talking. Yet. But if it was bad enough to strip him of a committee leadership position, doesn’t it stand to reason that his constituents deserve to know more so they can decide if he should be stripped of his seat in the legislature?

And that’s just in the last week!

Good government is NOT evidenced by opaqueness, closed doors, stifled debate, and witness intimidation. But just in the first two weeks of this legislative session, we’ve seen multiple closed GOP House caucus meetings. Turns out someone forgot to mention that the prison cost estimate, known to the relocation commission, was a couple hundred million dollars higher than they disclosed. And when the legislature’s own counsel slapped a note on HB205, indicating that it is likely unconstitutional, not only did the legislature avoid debate on the substance of this discriminatory abortion bill, but didn’t take a single minute to debate the likely cost of the inevitable litigation that will result from passing yet another unconstitutional message bill. And then there was what can only be described as an attempt to intimidate members of the public from presenting their testimony to the Natural Resources Committee who, unlike 99% of all other public legislative witnesses, were forced to take an oath and were reminded that lying to the committee would be a Class B Felony.

I could go on and on, but if you’ve stayed with me this far, let me try to end on a more optimistic note. I am not giving up. I will not put my head in the sand. I believe we can, will, and must do better. So don’t despair – join us in the good fight. Let’s keep working to make a Better Utah!

Josh Kanter is the founder and current Board Chair of the Alliance for a Better Utah[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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