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Utah's out-of-touch lawmakers

Published March 31, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Sutherland Institute's new Legislative Scorecard demonstrates that Sutherland's top-ranked legislators are the most out of touch with mainstream Utah voters, while those ranked lowest are the lawmakers most in sync with the majority.

Sutherland, the self-described conservative public policy think tank, ranks legislators according to its evaluation of their voting records, with 100 percent scores going to state Sens. Stuart Adams, Allen Christensen, Scott Jenkins, Mark Madsen, Wayne Niederhauser, Ralph Okerlund, Stuart Reid, Howard Stephenson, Jerry Stevenson, and John Valentine.

Likewise honored in the Utah House are Reps. Brad Daw, Brad Dee, Keith Grover, Chris Herrod, Greg Hughes, Becky Lockhart, Ronda Menlove, Mike Morley, Jim Nielson, Mike Noel, Curt Oda, Patrick Painter, Jeremy Peterson, Val Peterson, Ken Sumsion, Ryan Wilcox and Bill Wright.

At the bottom of the list are Sens. Luz Robles and Ross Romero, each with 25 percent, and Ben McAdams with 33 percent.

Rep. Mark Wheatley scored 20 percent, and Reps. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Jen Seelig and Brian King were tied at 23 percent.

Looking at the names and the scores, one might assume they represent a reasonable demarcation between so-called "conservative" and so-called "liberal" legislators.

But a closer look suggests that a key factor is missing from Sutherland's analysis — the majority of Utah's citizens.

The Alliance for a Better UTAH examined the voting records of Sutherland's "top" and "bottom" legislators on issues that were of paramount concern to Utahns in the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. Some of the votes we examined:

• The 2011 removal of the 1,000-foot firearm "safe zone" around schools — a bill opposed by parent and school advocates, law enforcement and a majority of Utahns.

• The 2011 Arizona-style, enforcement-only immigration bill, opposed by various groups and a majority of Utahns who favored the more balanced approach of the Utah Compact.

• The 2011 bill that would have gutted the state's open-records law, but after widespread public outcry, was repealed in an expensive special session after being passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

• The 2012 "No Sex Ed" bill opposed by a majority of Utahns and vetoed by Gov. Gary Herbert only after intense pressure from an unhappy electorate.

• The 2012 private school "voucher" bill, reincarnated as a "study," despite yearly defeats and strong public opposition to the concept of privatizing public education.

Looking at these and other bills overwhelmingly opposed by a majority of voters, one must ask where Sutherland's top- and bottom-ranked legislators stand?

The "top" legislators voted 98 percent in favor of these unpopular bills, while the "bottom" bunch voted 97 percent against the bills.

Sutherland is certainly entitled to rank legislators however it likes.

But the data seem to suggest that legislators' voting records were ranked against a scorecard prepared by the Eagle Forum, not the mainstream Utah voter.

If legislators are duly elected to do the people's business, it appears that Sutherland's bottom-ranked legislators are the ones deserving of the highest scores.

Maryann Martindale is executive director of the Alliance for a Better UTAH, an advocacy organization promoting progressive ideas.