Rolly: Utah Gov. Herbert plays hardball with fellow Republican Winder before striking out with GOP lawmakers

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Paul Rolly.

Gov. Gary Herbert might have been the Li’l Abner character “Available Jones” to give one-on-one time to campaign donors during his 2016 re-election, but for those who don’t heed his commands, he turns into the jinxed character Joe Btfsplk.

Herbert had scheduled a ceremonial signing of HB216, which creates the Jordan River Recreation Area and provides for improvements along the river.

That so excited the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, that he sent out invitations to public officials to attend the event, set for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

But Winder got a call Tuesday from Paul Edwards, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, asking how he was planning to vote in Wednesday’s override session on two bills dealing with separation-of-powers issues that the governor had vetoed.

The measures shifted more power to the legislative branch, and Herbert was open about his desire to see them defeated.

Winder didn’t commit. He told Edwards he still was studying the issues and hadn’t decided how he would vote.

The lawmaker then was told that if he didn’t commit, the ceremonial signing would be canceled. He was given an hour to decide.

When Winder remained noncommittal after those 60 minutes, he was told that Herbert would not be at his ceremony.

That seemed to indicate a breakup of what had been a beautiful friendship. Herbert had attended a cottage meeting at Winder’s house with Republican delegates before the recent Salt Lake County GOP convention, where Winder eliminated opponent Fred Cox to qualify for the general election ballot.

Winder relayed that story to members of the House Republican caucus Wednesday during the special session in which the Legislature overrode Herbert’s two vetoes.

Several caucus members told me that Winder’s account persuaded them to vote for the override after they previously were undecided.

The caucus members also presented Winder with a ceremonial pen, a traditional gift at signing ceremonies, since it would not be coming from the governor.

Edwards confirmed in an email that he had discussed the override votes with Winder and that the governor’s office ultimately decided to cancel the ceremony. Edwards said the ceremony had been scheduled before the override session had been called. Wednesday, he added, became a busy time because of the session, and the governor’s office had to consider canceling some events.

“Ceremonial signings are a favor that the governor provides to legislators. They are truly ceremonial — meant to draw greater attention to the legislated issue than can happen when the governor signs hundreds of pieces of legislation during the 20-day statutory bill-signing period,” Edwards wrote.

“Was [Winder’s] indecision a factor into my recommendation to take the ceremonial signing off of the governor’s schedule, especially after the governor had already attended and spoken at a cottage meeting for Rep. Winder just prior to the Salt Lake County nominating convention? Absolutely. Was it determinative? No. Ultimately, Rep. Winder was told by our office to vote his conscience.”

And, ultimately, Winder voted to override the vetoes.

Policing the police • After Cottonwood Heights City Councilwoman Tali Bruce asked during a budget meeting about doing a cost analysis to see if it would be cheaper to contract law enforcement services with the countywide Unified Police Department, she alleges she became a target of Cottonwood Heights police harassment.

She noticed a police truck parked outside her home as she was leaving to attend a council meeting one day. When she rolled down her window to ask what he was doing there, the officer pretended not to notice her as he talked on a cellphone.

Police Chief Robbie Russo sent the city an open-records request for all of Bruce’s emails. The councilwoman was told that police are aware of some of her past problems with the department. She says those problems consist of her getting frustrated and hanging up on a 911 call one time.

Russo says the records request was a legitimate exercise because he had a right to know what kind of communication the City Council member was having with the Unified Police in an attempt to dismantle the city’s police department.

Mayor Mike Peterson says the whole dispute stems from a misunderstanding. Bruce is new to the council and had legitimate questions about the budget, he said. “Sometimes these things get misinterpreted.”

The mayor said council members have the right to ask questions, but he also praised the police department for “doing a great job.”

The Cottonwood Heights force was accused a few years ago of harassing customers of the Canyon Inn bar to drive it out of business, so developers could take over the property.

Russo denied the allegations at the time, noting his department simply is aggressive when it comes to DUI arrests.

The Canyon Inn eventually closed.