Utah Republicans retaliate against Democrats for misleading tax reform mailers

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, speaks as the House repeals the tax package they passed last month during a special session, at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, apparently. Utah Republicans, who were outraged after Democrats targeted several GOP legislators with a disingenuous attack over the failed tax reform bill, are using the same tactics against a Democratic House member.

Earlier this month, Utah Democrats sent mailers to voters in the districts of several vulnerable House Republicans, slamming them for failing to stand in the way of the tax reform package despite those same Republicans voting against the bill.

It was a guilt by association argument, suggesting that the Republican supermajority in the Legislature pushed the tax reform package through and all Republicans were culpable regardless of how they voted.

“It’s garbage,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, at the time.

Many of the Republicans targeted by the Democratic mailers, and a similar social media campaign from a left-leaning activist group, worried the deceptive mailers came too late for them to respond effectively as ballots had already been delivered to voters.

Now, in a seemingly pointless tit for tat, the Utah GOP blasted a text message to voters in the district of Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, hammering Briscoe for “doing nothing to stop the food tax increase.”

The language and appearance of the ad are a carbon copy of the Democratic mailers attacking Republicans. That is apparently not an accident.

Campaign text message from the Utah GOP

Similar text messages and mailers are popping up in the districts of other Democratic House incumbents, too, including Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Salt Lake City and Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City.

“This message is virtually identical to one sent out last week by the Utah Democratic Party," said Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown. “When asked about it, they defended it and made clear that it contained nothing inappropriate.”

Much like the Democratic mailers, the GOP text messages are filled with falsehoods.

“This message simply holds their party accountable by the same standard,” Brown said.

Brown would not say whether other Democrats were similarly targeted by the state party.

Hitting Briscoe with the text messages makes zero sense politically. He’s has won his last four elections with at least 80% of the vote, and Republicans didn’t even bother to field a candidate in his district in 2016 and 2018.

Briscoe was the only House Democrat to serve on the tax reform task force that produced the reforms passed by lawmakers in late 2019. Opposition to that plan was so large it led to a petition drive that gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a public vote. Lawmakers repealed it in response.

Briscoe said he was surprised by the attack, especially since it was coming from the state party.

“It’s petty and apparently they’re trying to make a point,” said Briscoe. “Maybe they picked my district because they know it wouldn’t have a big impact on me.”

Briscoe said he was mostly bemused by what he sees as a juvenile reaction to the previous Democratic attack.

“I taught junior high. Sometimes politics devolves into ‘you can’t eat at my table because you said something mean’. Maybe someone had a little bit too much time and angst on their hands,” he added.