Embattled Utah school board member Natalie Cline met privately with GOP House leader

As the Legislature began considering their response to Cline’s post questioning a high school athlete’s gender, House Speaker Mike Schultz met with Utah school board member.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline, District 9, Thursday, August 3, 2023. Lawmakers and legislative staff confirmed on Wednesday that House Speaker Mike Schultz met privately with Cline as the Legislature began considering their response to Cline's social media post.

Embattled Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline met with House Republican leadership behind closed doors last week. That meeting came as the GOP-controlled legislature began grappling with how it would respond to the firestorm of controversy resulting from Cline falsely insinuating that a female high-school athlete was transgender.

Legislative leaders denounced Cline’s actions immediately after her social media post about the student. Late last week, House Republicans authorized drafting a resolution — that could ultimately range from censure to impeachment — to address Cline, but there has been little movement in public.

A spokesperson for House Republicans confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, met with Cline on Friday morning before the House voted to draft a resolution in response to her actions.

It is unclear what the House leader and school board member discussed during Friday’s meeting.

Senate Assistant Majority Whip Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, said Wednesday that right now there does not appear to be an appetite among his House colleagues to try to impeach Cline.

“If it’s impeachment, the House has to start that,” the senator said. “What I’m hearing, it’s probably not going to go toward impeachment. It’ll probably be some sort of censure or something like that.”

“By no means does anybody want to sanction anything she’s done. It’s wholly inappropriate,” Cullimore said. “But I think we’ve got to be careful with that impeachment power. Stuff has to rise to either the level of high crime or malfeasance, and as a political body and political process we have the ability to define malfeasance, but I think we’re getting gray area if we’re saying social media posts could be deemed malfeasance.”

Cullimore is also working on a potential bill that could make it a crime for an adult to bully a child on social media.

“I think its fair to say its in response to the Natalie Cline incident, recognizing, ‘Hey, there might be an issue here,’ but the bill won’t be specific to her,” he said. “I think the idea is particularly ... that social media is a harm to kids and we don’t need adults exacerbating that harm and so there’s a thought should we criminalize it if an adult targets a specific kid on social media and that targeting causes some demonstrable harm.”

Senate President Stuart Adams says he is aware that Schultz had met with Cline, but neither he nor any other Republicans in his chamber have had any contact with her or the family of the student since the incident took place.

“We were concerned that with anything we wanted to do, we stay as unbiased as we could until we decided what direction we wanted to take,” Adams said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers have 11 working days until the 2024 session ends on March 1. Adams says he is not worried about how the clock might dictate their actions.

“We’re trying to be methodical,” the senate president told reports. “We still have about a third of the session remaining. That’s a long time for us to do anything we decide,” Adams said.

The Utah State School Board is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon in a closed-door session to discuss how to respond to Cline’s actions. The Granite District School Board passed a resolution calling for her resignation. The Canyons Board of Education adopted a similar resolution Tuesday.

Legislative Democrats said they were unaware that Cline had met with House leaders, but questioned whether that was an appropriate action.

“Why didn’t we get a chance to speak with her?” Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, asked.

Salt Lake Tribune politics reporter Robert Gehrke contributed to this story.

Correction, 2:50 p.m. • This story has been corrected to say that Natalie Cline met with Speaker Mike Schultz on Friday.