Sources: Buttars may lose Judiciary Committee spot over anti-gay comments

Published February 20, 2009 12:37 pm
Anti-gay comments » Buttars called gays a 'threat,' and without morals
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An anti-gay diatribe by Sen. Chris Buttars will cost him his spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, The Tribune has learned.

Senate Republicans, prompted by complaints from minority Democrats, held a frank discussion of Buttars' actions in a closed-door caucus Thursday. Afterward, senators would not discuss what action, if any, might be taken against the West Jordan Republican.

Part of it, Senate leaders said, depends on what Buttars, who left the Capitol after Thursday's caucus to be with his family, decides to do. He did not return a phone message. But Senate President Michael Waddoups said the action he plans to take is clear.

"I've made up my mind what I'm going to do," Waddoups, R-Taylorsville said, but he would not elaborate.

Sources familiar with the Senate discussions, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Senate Republican caucus decided to remove Buttars from the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel which he currently chairs.

It is unclear how that move would affect his position on another panel, the Judicial Confirmation Committee, which he also chairs and is a member of by virtue of his position on the Judiciary Committee.

A news conference has been scheduled for Friday morning to discuss the Buttars situation.

Senate Majority Whip Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said Buttars is aware of his range of options, and no decision is final until Buttars reports back to Waddoups on Friday about how he wants to handle the issue.

Waddoups has considerable authority to discipline members of the Senate, including stripping them of any or all committee assignments.

"We're dealing with a very sensitive issue," said Senate Assistant Majority Whip Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights. "We want to be judicious. We want those who have been offended to understand … and we also want to make sure that Senator Buttars is dealt with fairly."

In an interview for a documentary film, Buttars called gays "the greatest threat to America going down." He said homosexuals lack any morals and want special rights.

"It's the beginning of the end," Buttars said. "Oh, it's worse than that. Sure. Sodom and Gomorrah was localized. This is worldwide."

Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said members of her caucus were offended by the remarks and she went to Waddoups and told him that, unless Republican leaders took some steps to acknowledge the slight, they planned to raise the issue on the floor.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative organization that has been among Buttars' most strident supporters, said she did not expect any action against the senator.

"It's a free speech issue," she said. "I'm sure they'd defend anybody's right on that floor to say what they want to say."

Waddoups said on Wednesday that he thought it would be "inappropriate" to take any action against Buttars for stating his own opinion when those statements were not a violation of Senate rules.

A year ago, Buttars was also in the crossfire, in that instance for statements he made that were deemed racially insensitive during debate on a school construction bill. He apologized on the floor of the Senate for those remarks, but the NAACP and others called for his resignation.

He also was stripped by then-Senate President John Valentine of his chairmanship of the Judicial Nomination Committee after he wrote a letter on Senate letterhead scolding a judge for ruling against a friend.

Despite the controversies, Buttars withstood a strong challenge to win re-election by a comfortable margin. But Valentine lost his bid for re-election as Senate President based, at least in part, on his punishment of Buttars.

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