When Bravo TV’s Andy Cohen announced the next installation of “The Real Housewives” franchise would be in Salt Lake City, he used phrases like “curveball” and “completely unique” to describe the Beehive State.
Judging from the past year of news, he has no idea just how different this state can be.
From fake Twitters to liquor laws — and everything in between — here are the most unique-to-Utah stories from 2019.
The Mormon millionaire matchmaker
While we’re on the subject of “reality” television, let’s dive right into one of the weirdest stories of the year: The mysterious Mormon millionaire looking for love.
In May, a spattering of billboards went up across the Salt Lake Valley inviting women to visit LDSMillionaireMatchmaker.com. When pressed by one of our hard-hitting political reporters, a dating coach involved with the project declined to name the bachelor, but said, “He’s a great guy and has so much to offer.”
A group of 20 women eventually gathered to meet and mingle with the mystery man, but the man’s identity was never revealed. The New York Times reports that each woman was gifted a Kate Spade necklace. Media and non-participants were left only with the promise of future matchmaking events and this totally-not-a-murderer picture of the bachelor in question.
The Twitter alias
What was revealed, however, was that Mitt Romney is a Twitter lurker. In an interview with The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, the Utah senator admitted to having a burner account. Mere hours after that interview published, Slate’s Ashley Feinberg found said account — under the name Pierre Delecto.
What was he using the account for? Not much, honestly. Delecto had tweeted only 10 times since 2011 — and those tweets were either milquetoast responses to criticism of him or commentaries on the modern state of politics. Maybe he saves his hot takes for a Finsta?
The birthday candles
Let’s be honest: Delecto — I mean Romney — has made headlines in recent years for a number of reasons. He ran for president; he became a Utah senator; he admitted to another human being that his favorite meat is hot dog.
This year, though, Romney blessed (cursed?) us with another unusual gem: A video of him blowing out his birthday candles by literally picking each one out of a cake made from Twinkies, blowing them out and neatly collecting them in his hand.
What strange Romneyism awaits us in 2020, no one knows.
The ‘Storm the Church Vault’ event
Remember when half a million people declared they were going to raid Area 51 and “Naruto-run” from the armed guards by RSVP-ing to a Facebook group? If not, this story probably won’t make any sense to you.
Basically, a group of Utahns set out to make their own version of the viral event and invited others to bring funeral potatoes and green Jell-O to the LDS Church’s vault up Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Like the Area 51 event, many expressed interest but few — if any — showed up.
The DABC v. low-alcohol beer
The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control put Utahns through a rollercoaster of emotions in 2019, which actually seems par for the course, to be honest.
Utahns cheered in March when Gov. Gary Herbert signed Senate Bill 132, making way for higher-alcohol brews to be sold in grocery and convenience stores and boosting the allowable alcohol content on beer served on tap in bars and restaurants. Those cheers eventually faded into shrieks of horror when the DABC announced that it would, on Halloween night, dump any low-alcohol beer that remained on liquor store shelves, per state law.
To celebrate the life of said beer, Utahns, Clydesdale horses and Budweiser sales teams held a funeral-like procession down through Downtown Salt Lake City.
The first new DUI arrest
Speaking of alcohol, Utah also enacted the strictest DUI limit in the nation in 2019, raising it from .08 to .05 percent blood alcohol concentration.
On New Year’s Day, a 21-year-old who says he celebrated New Year’s Eve in Salt Lake City and then slept for hours before starting to drive home to Wyoming was the first person arrested under the new DUI threshold.
The first Starbucks
Meanwhile, in Provo …
Seriously, though, Provo got its first Starbucks this year and it’s got to be one of the last places to get its first Starbucks. Despite the majority LDS population, who are taught to abstain from coffee and tea, Starbucks said, “we are thrilled to become a part of the neighborhood and serve as a gathering place for citizens of the community.”
A first for Utah Republicans
Speaking of firsts, Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie disclosed this year that he is gay. The first openly gay Republican to hold partisan office in state history said he has no regrets about posting his announcement video, but acknowledges being surprised by the volume of the response.
“I guess I knew that part of it would be unique, especially coming from Utah and Utah County,” Ivie said. “We’re kind of the reddest county in a very, very predominantly red state.”
The lewdness lawsuit
Typically, clothing becomes optional once you’re in the comfort of your own home. In Utah, however, taking your top off on your own property could result in criminal charges. That’s what’s happening to Tilli Buchanan, a 27-year-old West Valley City woman who faces jail time and a sex offender label after her stepchildren saw her without a shirt on in her home.
Buchanan says she and her husband were undressing after installing insulation in their garage when the children walked in. “This isn’t a sexual thing,” she recalled telling the children. “I should be able to wear exactly what my husband wears. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about this.”
State officials disagreed, and now her attorney plans to ask a judge to find that Utah’s lewdness statute is unconstitutional because it discriminates against women.
The pickup game gone wrong
Basketball games in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses are known for being rough — they’re often referred to as “the brawl that begins with prayer.” But one pickup game in 2019 got so rough, apparently, that Utah’s Supreme Court had to issue a ruling on it.
The case focused on a knee injury that Judd Nixon suffered during a 2012 church-sponsored game at a Utah County stake center. The referee determined a foul wasn’t intentional, but Nixon called it a tackle and spent the next three years in court — the legal type — trying to prove it. The high court eventually found that “reaching in” and “swiping at the ball” are expected during a basketball game, and that Nixon couldn’t sue.
The swimsuit advertisement
Another Utah County story resulted in some groans this year when a Provo-based swimwear company was heavily criticized for an advertisement that attempted to celebrate each day’s “little victories” in 12 video interviews with Utah women “from all walks of life.”
The problem? Nine of the women are blonde and all present as white.
The company responded to criticism by saying, “We did a model call just two weeks ago with over 200 applicants and none of which were of color,” the company said in a now-deleted response to criticisms on Instagram. “Honestly harder than it may seem but if you know anyone in Utah willing to put a swimsuit on please send them our way.” That’s when Stacy Horton, 28, took to Twitter to prove a point, calling on women and men of color in Utah to drop a picture of themselves in her thread. More than 100 did.
The ‘sanctuary city’
The term “sanctuary city” typically refers to areas where city officials decline to comply with government officials, especially immigration officials.
The Riverton City Council passed a resolution establishing the community as a “sanctuary city,” but not the kind for undocumented residents. The resolution declares a support for unborn humans, the belief that life begins “at the moment of conception” and that “every baby is welcome in Riverton.”
Weeks later, the same council passed a statement promoting a “child-appropriate” standard across its boundaries that expresses the council’s desire to “protect children” from sexually explicit or pornographic material and its concern “about the corrosion of childhood due to the proliferation of material placed in public view that has a degrading effect on children.”
The ‘premarital exam’
If you’re not from Utah, the term “premarital exam” might make you scratch your head. Actually, even if you are from Utah, you still might not know what to make of it.
The premarital exam is offered by some University of Utah offices and can include prescribing antibiotics to women before their honeymoon in case they get a urinary tract infection and giving exams to “confirm that her body is ready for sex and take steps to reduce discomfort and frustration associated with the first few times.”
After some physicians came forward to say the practice is sexist and not evidence based, the university adjusted its terminology and says it plans to include “language for both men and women.”
The Senate floor speech
Props are often used to enhance a speech or help make a point. In some cases, though, props can be distracting.
Such was the case when Utah Sen. Mike Lee stood in front of his peers and criticized the Green New Deal. Armed with a poster of President Ronald Regan riding a dinosaur while firing a machine gun, Lee urged his peers to consider the Green New Deal “with the seriousness it deserves.”
The deal eventually failed to advance to the Senate, but the image of Lee standing next to the poster lives on.
The rare snow day
Remember when your dad said he used to walk uphill to school (both ways) in the snow? If he grew up in Utah, he might not have been exaggerating, at least about the snow part.
Thanks to a crazy February snowstorm, all five public school districts in Salt Lake County — as well as Park City and Tooele — canceled classes for the first time in two decades. For one joyous Wednesday, kids built snowmen taller than Rudy Gobert, slid their bikes down icy sidewalks and generally terrorized their parents’ homes. Meanwhile, students enrolled in the Alpine School District rolled their eyes while parents raged (not the fun kind) on Facebook.
The not-so insidious voter fraud issue
When it comes to voter fraud, Utah’s biggest criminals aren’t the shadowy characters you’d imagine — they’re Latter-day Saint mothers whose kids are away on religious missions, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said this year.
“They think, ‘Oh, I’ll just fill it out for him, and I’ll sign it and send it back in,’” Cox explained. “They could go to jail for that,” he continued, drawing chuckles from the gathered group. “So we kindly ... call them up and tell them that’s illegal, you can’t do that.”
Sex ed in Utah schools
Utah is known for being a conservative state, and a quick look at its sex education legislation proves that to be true.
We started the year with a bill urging Utah school districts to have a policy restricting cellphones because one conservative state representative worries that students are using their personal devices to look at pornography. A few months later, the state updated its sex education standard for the first time in 20 years.
That’s right. The last time Utah updated its sex ed guidelines, children were playing with Pokemon. “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was the top song on the Billboard charts. We were renting movies from Blockbuster. But I digress.
Months after the new guidelines passed — which still stressed abstinence, FWIW — several conservative groups packed a Utah Board of Education meeting to protest a state law that says teachers can answer “spontaneous questions” from students about sex.
Just a typical day in Utah education news. And don’t even get us started on climate change.
The wrong SLCC
Applying to college can be a trying experience. There are a lot of questions, some unexplained fees and, frankly, some misleading acronyms. Kaitlynn Lovelady, a 21-year-old Louisiana native, was a victim of such acronyms — she just didn’t realize it until she applied to South Louisiana Community College and got a letter saying “Welcome to Salt Lake Community College.”
Lovelady tweeted about the incident and was treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to Utah and a guided tour of the campus by top administrators. She toured the campus, visited Antelope Island and tried an Iceberg milkshake while on the trip — but never confirmed which school she’d be attending.
The ‘jiggery pokery’
Blanding Republican state Rep. Phil Lyman, who was convicted of a misdemeanor for leading an illegal ATV protest ride when he was a San Juan County commissioner, lashed out at the news media, the courts and federal prosecutors in court documents objecting to a recommendation that his monthly restitution payments be increased five-fold.
Those documents contained a number of memorable quotes, including:
“This is collusion. It is the opposite of justice. It is the opposite of a fair trial. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to bring this decay to light, not only for my own acquittal but for the exoneration of others in my community whose lives have been destroyed by this same jiggery pokery.”
“The object of the protest was not the illegal closure of a road, but a barbaric raid by federal agencies on their hometown.”
“What a travesty this has been. I recognize that there are criminals in the world, but I also know that I am not one of them.”
The Trump defender
President Donald Trump’s impeachment was obviously one of the biggest national news stories of the year, and Utahns were watching their delegates closely throughout the entire process.
One representative, in particular, was vocal about defending the president. Rep. Chris Stewart — who wrote in an opinion piece Oct. 30 that, “I’ve heard from nearly every witness" — was present for some key witnesses while absent for several others. According to transcripts of depositions, Stewart attended only half of the impeachment hearings. His office confirmed he was in Utah for four of the eight hearings in Washington, of which transcripts have been made public.
It might be called Antelope Island, but it’s really the bison you need to keep an eye out for.
And it’s not just hikers who are worried about the animals; landowners are worried about the big game getting off the island. For several years, buffaloes have, at times, invaded the mainland, prompting state officials to call for 10 miles of fencing around the island’s south end.
The animal rescues
Utahns weren’t always the victims when it came to animals, though. Sometimes, they were the heroes.
In one instance, two Utah fishermen in Garfield County planned a creative rescue for a fully grown bull elk stuck chest-deep in mud. The men cut down two cedar trees to make posts, which they tied together to make an A-frame. They connected ropes to the elk and their ATV, then ran a winch over the top of the A-frame, so that the cable, when pulled, erected the A-frame, and that pulled the elk’s chest above the wall of mud that trapped him. They used an ATV to pull the elk the rest of the way out.
Then, snowmobilers found three Great Pyrenees puppies alone in a remote area of Weber County. Crews brought a rescue sled to the snowmobilers to help take the puppies out of the mountains. After the ordeal, Hope’s Rescue in Ogden found homes for them.