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Paul Rolly: LaVar Christensen’s return to the House means painful days for Utah legislators

First Published      Last Updated Nov 26 2016 01:26 pm

Here's a dirty little secret about morals champion Rep. LaVar Christensen's come-from-behind three-vote win for re-election that inspired Bob Bernick of the online newsletter Utah Policy to dub him "Landslide LaVar."

A number of colleagues in his own party were quietly hoping the Draper Republican would go down to defeat at the hands of Democrat Suzanne Harrison, an anesthesiologist who had once been a registered Republican in Virginia.

It's not that Christensen is particularly disliked, or has any embarrassing skeletons to hide. He fits right into the conservative mold of the GOP-dominated Legislature.

But as one House colleague described it, "LaVar never learned to appreciate the value of an unspoken thought."




Christensen is infamous, colleagues say, for his long, laborious oratories on the floor of the House and in committee meetings that often would deprive the legislators from hearing debate on crucial bills because they would run out of time.

On more than one occasion during legislative committee meetings, legislators would place bets with each other on how long Christensen would talk before mentioning the founding fathers. Another popular bet would be how many times LaVar would take the floor to rebut what a previous speaker had just said.

Legislators would shudder when Christensen and Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, would engage in the discussion on the same bill. Neither could let the other have the last say.

Both also had a reputation for annoying their colleagues by constantly offering amendments to bills without consulting the sponsors.

But at least Cox viewed his reputation with a sense of humor, one colleague said.

At the end of the special session held at the Capitol last week, outgoing House members were given the floor to say goodbye and share some memories.

Cox, who was defeated by fellow Republican Mike Winder in his bid for re-election, cracked up the entire House by standing up and saying, "I would like to propose an amendment."

Christensen, on the other hand, dives into his long, sleep-enhancing speeches and incessant bill meddling with the zeal of a true believer.

A darling of the morality watchdogs, the Sutherland Institute and the Eagle Forum, Christensen has long seen himself a leader in protecting the virtues of "Utah values."

He has forged the way in legislation defending religious liberties, standing as the champion of those who resist performing certain services that may offend their theological beliefs.

Christensen sponsored the 2004 amendment to the Utah Constitution that banned gay marriage.

But even fellow Republicans who share his views about marriage being just between a man an a woman have criticized him for his passionate stand because, in a touch of irony, his amendment hastened the practice of gay marriage in Utah.

It was that constitutional amendment that provided the grounds for a federal lawsuit by gay couples claiming their rights to equal protection under the U.S. constitution were being violated.

Had there been no constitutional amendment, there may have been no lawsuit, which ended in a ruling that the same-sex marriage ban did indeed violate the U.S. Constitution and Utah same sex couples began marrying in droves.

Christiansen's races have always had a religious undertone to them, with anonymous messages to voters questioning the ecclesiastical worthiness of his opponents.

There were rumors in this year's campaign that Harrison, who shares Christensen's Mormon faith, was not the right choice for Mormons because she is a Democrat.

The sources of those rumors were never confirmed, but they were consistent with the charges of playing the Mormon card Christensen has endured in his previous races.

The Utah Democratic Party is requesting a recount in the Christensen-Harrison race, but for now, and thanks to a scant three votes, Christensen's colleagues in the House can plan to settle in during the 2017 session of the Legislature and listen to long, passionate sermons as they look longingly at the clock waiting for lunch time.

 

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