When Rocky Anderson was Salt Lake City’s mayor in the early 2000s, he drove Utah conservatives crazy.
The liberal politician led rallies against Republican President George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, joined a lawsuit against a massive highway project for threatening sensitive wetlands and spoke out frequently and loudly on behalf of progressive causes.
So some of his critics in Davis County and in other, more conservative, Salt Lake County cities advocated for a legal exemption that would allow them to vote in the Salt Lake City mayoral election.
Their argument was that while they don’t live in Salt Lake City, they work and shop there, so the mayor’s policies affected their everyday lives as much as if they were residents in Utah’s capital.
Of course, their proposal never would pass any kind of legal test, and they knew it. Their protests were mostly to make a point.
In that spirit, I propose that Salt Lake City residents be allowed to vote in a Kane County legislative race.
My argument is the same as those anti-Rocky forces: We have no control over the election of a right-wing zealot who represents rural constituents who have little in common with Salt Lake City residents. But this politician believes he has the right to dictate how those residents live and govern themselves.
That would be Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.
Noel’s latest imposition comes in legislation that would take away the city’s regulatory authority to protect its own drinking water supply in the nearby canyons. He wants those powers transferred to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, whose administrators did not ask for that task nor are they equipped to take it.
He also wants to strip public entities from lobbying for public land protections.
And he wants to force largely populated cities such as Salt Lake City to dedicate a highway for cattle drives within the city, even though the capital has precious little cattle grazing in its urban settings and no need for a cattle-drive area.
In the past, Noel successfully sponsored legislation to use 30 percent of gas tax money dedicated to improving rural roads to help pay for the lawsuits rural Utah counties have filed against the federal government so the locals can have more motorized access to protected public lands.
Who pays most of the gas tax money? Urban commuters along the Wasatch Front.
So they are the ones paying for the windmill tilting of Noel and his cronies who have pushed for continuing litigation despite losing almost every motion in federal court.
Noel has attempted to put more legislative control over the legal opinions issued by state attorneys, especially dealing with environmental and public lands issues.
He tried to set up a taxpayer-backed legal defense fund for San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who was convicted in federal court of organizing an illegal ATV ride. Had that passed, the higher populations of Salt Lake County would have been on the hook for most of it because they pay most of the taxes.
Noel has advocated using $53 million of publicly dedicated money to transport coal from rural Utah counties to Oakland, Calif., which doesn’t want it, to be shipped across the Pacific Ocean to Asian countries.
He has pushed for a plan that would tap a huge amount of arid Utah’s precious water for a pie-in-the-sky proposal to build a nuclear power plant in southeastern Utah.
He also sought to ease regulations on outside wood-burning boilers, seen as big polluters, even in Wasatch Front cities that already struggle with gunky air during high-inversion months.
Did he consult the urban taxpayers who would be most affected by his initiatives? No. In fact, when they have complained, he has tried to shut them up.
Noel has more clout than he deserves because he heads the House Rules Committee, which gives him the power to determine which bills see the light of day and which ones die.
If you are a legislator passionate about getting your bills passed, would you publicly oppose his agenda?
That’s why Salt Lake City residents should have a say in the continued legislative service of “cowboy” Mike Noel.