McEntee: Garn's hot tub interlude much more than a 'mistake'
For Kevin Garn, it's been 25 years of hiding, of paying big money for "secrecy," of presenting himself as a devoted public servant, twice rising to the status of House Majority Leader in the Utah Legislature.
In the same 25 years, Cheryl Maher has been plagued by substance abuse and mental illness, even as she served in leadership roles in the LDS Church -- as did Garn, a former bishop.
This week, it all came out: In 1985, Garn, then 30 and married, and Maher, a 15-year-old who worked for him, took off their clothes and climbed into a hot tub. Garn insists there was no physical contact but admits what he did was wrong. Maher says there was touching, but won't elaborate.
But under the circumstances, what Garn did amounts to exploitation of an underage girl.
It's easy to understand why he kept quiet about it all these years, even paying Maher $150,000 in 2003 to buy her silence. Garn says he considered it extortion, but arranged for her to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Last week, he told his legislative colleagues that he'd been afraid, that he should have told the truth long ago but didn't want to be judged for "one of my life's worst decisions."
I can't know all the reasons why Maher, until last week, kept her part of the bargain. That big check had something to do with it.
But I do know that all too often in such circumstances, young people can bear their own burden of guilt and shame. Often, there's no one to talk to about what they've seen or experienced, and sometimes they aren't believed if they do talk.
So, brick by brick, they can build their own prisons. Maher says her life unraveled in the years after the hot tub episode. She later married, but says she had a problem with pills and "was a mess."
Today, she says, she's going through a divorce and a custody battle and went public for her own peace of mind.
She has seen Garn a couple of times in the last few years, apparently amicably. But two years ago, she told Garn's son in an e-mail that "nothing will stop me" from getting "justice and compensation."
Garn resigned from the Legislature Saturday. Only Maher knows what her next step will be.
Garn can say he expects public humiliation, but can't allow a "foolish mistake to continue to shadow my life."
Well, let's get it straight. Getting naked in a hot tub with a 15-year-old goes far beyond a "mistake."
Kevin Garn, like so many caught in such circumstances, should take a long look in the psychic mirror. He may find a greater truth, and a far more difficult one, in his reflection.