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Lawmakers take shots at the South
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

SALT LAKE CITY - People in Utah are used to being mocked by the outside world because of the state's polygamous roots, even if it makes their blood boil.

So if any state should be sensitive to the problem of bashing another's reputation based on stereotypes, it ought to be Utah.

But three weeks into their legislative session, lawmakers here have questioned the patriotism of Alabama and North Carolina on the floor of the House and have mocked Arkansas as an illiterate state on the Senate floor.

This comes in the same year Utah lawmakers returned to a renovated Capitol with a chandelier Arkansas helped restore by donating glass globes from one of its own.

It was a significant gesture from a state where some residents still look to Utah with some suspicion. In 1857, 120 Arkansans bound for California were slaughtered by Mormon pioneers in southern Utah in an attack known as the Mountain Meadows massacre.

Still, state Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi, couldn't resist taking a seemingly irrelevant shot at Arkansas on Jan. 31 as he summed up discussion on a bill about the use of vehicles by Department of Corrections employees.

Peterson was being corrected by Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, that his bill had a fiscal note, but no fiscal impact.

''Thank you for that. But you know, as they say in Arkansas, literacy ain't everything,'' Peterson said as several of his colleagues nervously laughed along.

Arkansans have long been tired of stereotypes that they can't read, even if someone is saying it only in jest.

Beau Brosius, a 30-year-old Arkansas native now living in Salt Lake City, said he found Peterson's comment offensive. Brosius is a product of the Southern state's public school system and a graduate of the University of Arkansas.

Fellow alumni include William Fulbright - as in the Fulbright Scholarship - and many other accomplished people. Brosius also said an elected official in Utah should know how inaccurate and hurtful stereotypes can be.

''It gets old, but at the same time it's almost like the Mormon thing here,'' he said. ''People don't come to Utah so much because they're afraid of Mormons.''

Arkansas' education system was not the only Southern state's education system to come under attack from Utah lawmakers, though.

In a debate Friday over whether the House should pass a resolution encouraging school districts to give students Veterans Day off, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, suggested Utah's schools were more patriotic than their Southern counterparts.

Sumsion said that when he lived in Alabama and North Carolina, he was offended that school districts there didn't give students Memorial Day off, suggesting they declined to do so because of still lingering resentment from the Civil War.

''Having been raised in Utah and kind of taught by my family to respect that day for what it stands for, I was really offended and taken back,'' Sumsion said. ''Well, if you understand the history of where Memorial Day comes from, then you might understand what the issue was in these districts.''

Memorial Day was declared an official holiday in May 1868, three years after the war ended and more than two years before the last Southern states were readmitted to the Union.

Several groups had placed flowers on Confederate troops' graves before the war had ended and some states continue to recognize Memorial Day and a separate day memorializing Confederate troops.

Still, it's not uncommon for Southern school districts to recognize Memorial Day as a holiday. That includes many districts in North Carolina, a state with some of the nation's largest military bases and numerous Memorial Day observances.

Senate mocks Arkansas as illiterate, House doubts Alabama, North Carolina's patriotism
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