Editor column: December’s big news will resonate through 2014
When he wrote "What's past is prologue," Shakespeare could have been referring to the last two weeks in Utah and the effect those big news stories undoubtedly will have in 2014.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby declares Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Another federal judge, Clark Waddoups, rules that parts of another state law regulating marriage — polygamy in this case — also are unconstitutional.
Two big decisions that hit the state upside the head. In the case of same-sex marriage, the endgame could be precedent-setting and society-altering: a federal decision sanctioning gay marriage across the nation. Shelby's ruling on Utah's Amendment 3 just might be that pivotal step in what many consider to be the civil-rights issue of our day. The Utah case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the role of states in defining marriage could be settled once and for all.
The other big news from December: Findings by the Utah House investigative committee looking into allegations against former Attorney General John Swallow.
Among the jaw-dropping revelations: Swallow doctored his calendars, attempting to hide his relationship with indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson. Swallow created a pay-to-play culture in the office where donors to his campaign received preferential access to the state's top prosecutor. Campaign money was hidden and not properly reported.
Although he has resigned, Swallow is not finished. Nor is his predecessor, mentor and political groomer, Mark Shurtleff. A criminal investigation continues into their activities, and the House investigators — wrapping up their report because Swallow quit — could be back on the payroll and told to keep digging.
It was a busy lead-up to the holidays — as filled with news as any in memory — and portends an interesting first quarter of the new year. Actually, these events could dominate the news for much of 2014.
For us in The Tribune newsroom, the notion that news fits conveniently into 12-month packages doesn't compute. The Swallow saga in particular crisscrosses years. Much of what was presented by special counsel Steve Reich and his team of investigators in the Capitol two weeks ago had beginnings in scores of Tribune stories carrying the bylines of Robert Gehrke and Tom Harvey months before. Those stories, in turn, were examining events from years earlier. Going into 2014, the information will take on new meaning and ramifications as the story enters news phases.
Where does it all end? Criminal charges are conceivable. A healthy discussion of campaign laws seems necessary, as does a clear-eyed look at Republican dominance in Utah and how voters were blind to warning signs during the 2012 campaign for attorney general.
With same-sex marriage, the initial euphoria among advocates, and disappointment among opponents, soon will give way to a political and legal phase as both sides marshal their arguments for the appellate courts. Could the Utah Legislature enter the fray? It's a good bet.
Our plan in the newsroom is to continue to explore the ramifications of the change on other societal institutions: families, the workplace, education, adoption, the economy, health care. We will examine issues, but always keep the personal perspective — the couples and families who are at the center of the story.
The polygamy issue seems less important in a practical sense. After all, Utah's anti-polygamy statute rarely is enforced. It grabs our attention when polygamists, for better or worse, make an issue of it.
Still, it is ingrained in Utah history and culture — and there are arguments for maintaining and enforcing valid laws to protect vulnerable women, especially young women and girls. Again, we are committed to including many voices in our coverage.
It requires a crystal ball to see the future. But with the events of the past few weeks, Utahns at least have a map of where 2014 is going.
Terry Orme is The Tribune's editor and publisher. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org