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Rolly: Notes symbolize power, and the lack thereof

By PAUL ROLLY

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Feb 06 2014 08:50 pm • Last Updated Feb 07 2014 04:52 pm

There is something symbolic about the hundreds of notes pasted recently to the door of the Utah Senate chamber urging senators to debate the bill to ban housing and employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Those in favor of the bill to protect the LGBT community — which has broad support among the public, according to polls — are on the outside of the castle and rarely are let in.

At a glance

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Those who have led the opposition to anti-discrimination bills are on the inside, and often have special access to the legislators who, because of Utah’s unique caucus/convention system, must answer to an elite few.

The anti-discrimination banners usually are raised by the Democrats in the Legislature. And, let’s face it, they have no clout.

There are five Democrats in the Senate, compared to 24 Republicans. There are 14 Democrats in the House, compared to 61 Republicans.

The people who posted the notes to the door can talk to the Democrats. They even can go to their open caucuses. Not so much with the Republicans.

Those who are most avidly opposed to legislation protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination are usually tied, in one form or another, to the Eagle Forum or like-minded groups.

Any close observer of the Legislature can easily see the reverence paid by Republican legislators to Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka and her loyal legion.

She is often seen going in and out of Senate offices. She has been known in the past to use some Senate offices as a bit of a station for herself as she busily wends her way through the corridors of the Legislature to get her many points across on political issues.

When she testifies before legislative committees — and she does that often — there is a sense of awe in the room. When advocates on the other side of sensitive issues from the Eagle Forum testify before those same committees, they are usually treated with indifference and sometimes openly harassed by hostile committee members.


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The reasons for the different treatments are easy to see. The Eagle Forum, because of Ruzicka’s superior organizational skills, has far more influence that its numbers might suggest in the process of selecting Republican candidates for public office.

And in Utah, a Republican candidate usually translates to elected office holder.

The Eagle Forum, through telephone trees and other modes of communication, get their followers and others who agree with them to the neighborhood caucuses with stunning success. So their people elect the delegates who in turn go to the party convention and nominate the candidates.

When Ruzicka writes an op-ed piece in the Deseret News claiming that if the anti-discrimination bill passes, then transgender boys who self-identify as females will be allowed into the girls’ restrooms and locker rooms in schools and will shower with the girls, that argument is repeated in Republican central committees and caucuses, and legislators, for their political good, are compelled to agree.

The sponsor of the dead-on-arrival nondiscrimination bill is a Republican — Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George. But while Urquhart can match his credentials as a staunch conservative on fiscal and free enterprise policies with any of his colleagues, he has earned the title of maverick for daring to offend the sensibilities of the Eagle Forum.

I must say, though, he seems to enjoy it.

When Urquhart actually got a similar bill passed out of a Senate committee last year before the bill was quickly put to death by legislative powers beholden to Ruzicka, his efforts awakened that Eagle Forum giant, which has been working overtime since before the session started to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

With a whisper here, a raised eyelid there, and an occasional thumbs up or thumbs down sign, those who make our laws get the message.

And the unwashed masses are left to plaster desperate notes on the outside of the palace walls.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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