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Walsh: How many strikes does Buttars get?

Published February 21, 2008 1:45 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I think I'm starting to

understand Chris Buttars.

He really doesn't know

better. Otherwise, why would he keep opening his mouth?

His "ugly black baby" slur was compounded by a whine about the "hate lynch mob," then topped off with exasperation at "those

people."

The West Jordan Republican state senator has managed to touch on each iteration of

America's unique spectrum of racist language. All that's missing is a random n-word or reference to fried chicken. And he's still

bewildered about what he's done wrong.

"Lynch mob is a Western term," Buttars said Tuesday night, after he ditched a meeting with the NAACP on his mea culpa tour. "That's not a racial term in my opinion. How do I know what words I'm supposed to use in front of those people?"

Apparently, Buttars' B.S. in marketing and economics from Utah State University didn't

include a course in American

history.

I know better than to expect a man who can't conjugate verbs correctly to choose his words carefully. But I do expect something more from Utah Republicans and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

What Buttars has done is

inexcusable - and reason for

censure from his peers and a quick resignation or pledge not to run for re-election.

Instead, Utah conservatives have closed ranks around him. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., nominal head of the state GOP, deflected the decision about whether Buttars should stay or go to his constituents - "based on their level of outrage." Senate Republicans defended Buttars on Monday as a "good man." The Eagle Forum planned - then wisely cancelled - a pro-Buttars rally. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff became Buttars' ambassador to the NAACP. Salt Lake County Republican Party chairman and former legislator James Evans insisted in a Deseret Morning News story that Buttars' statements were not racist - after bloviating a few years ago about former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's use of the word "slavish."

As Buttars compounded the damage this week, Senate President and would-be governor John Valentine stood behind the Senate's defense of Buttars. "We stand by our statement," he said Wednesday.

The Democrats haven't done much better. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich said Senate rules tied his hands. Because Buttars "apologized," censure is off the table. "It's up to his constituents to vote him out," Dmitrich said.

Meantime, the civil rights organization charged with catching and responding to racism has held back. Salt Lake NAACP President Jeanetta Williams bungled her moment in the spotlight. She responded timidly to his first slur, giving Buttars the benefit of the doubt. She only mustered outrage when reporters reminded her of his earlier criticism of a landmark desegregation case. Williams wanted to know the context of his "lynch mob" comment to The Tribune. Then, she held a news conference with an empty chair. Buttars calls it a "cheap shot"; he says he canceled his appearance hours in advance.

Tuesday night, former regional NAACP president Ed Lewis Jr. showed appropriate outrage about Buttars' comments, but then threw in his own questionable rant about an "old, white leader."

Fairly or unfairly, all Utahns will be blamed for our leaders' thumb-sucking.

For years, we have struggled to buck the state's backwater image. We volunteered in droves for the 2002 Winter Games. We called Iowa and New Hampshire for our adopted son - erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney - in a desperate bid for national validation. Now an out-of-touch and stubborn politician has reinforced all the tired old jokes about this place. And the people who can and should do something about it are sitting on their hands and biting their tongues.

"Does three strikes mean you're out?" asked Sen. Scott McCoy, a Salt Lake City Democrat.

Good question.

How about four?

walsh@sltrib.com