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Rolly: In the Utah Legislature, backhanded threats and bullying are business as usual

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Staff photos of the Salt Lake Tribune staff. Paul Rolly.

During the Sierra Club Utah Chapter’s spring fundraising breakfast Tuesday, director Ashley Soltysiak shared a story from this year’s legislative session that sheds a light on how lawmaking really works in the deeply red Beehive State.

The Sierra Club, Soltysiak noted, had worked tirelessly against the Legislature’s proposed fee hike on electric and hybrid vehicles as part of its public transportation bill, arguing that the state should encourage more clean-energy cars, not discourage them.

As the session wound down, Soltysiak said she and some companions were standing in the hall outside the House of Representatives when they were approached by a “stern-looking legislator” who passed on to them a sticky note containing a message from another “powerful” legislator.

The note warned that if the group continued lobbying against the fee hike, the legislator would use his power to eliminate funding for all clean-air programs under the Department of Environmental Quality included in the appropriations bill — amounting to about $10 million.

It was a clear threat, Soltysiak said.

She went home and “slept on it,” she said, and the next day she and her colleagues decided to double down on their efforts to kill the fee hike. They stepped up their legislative contacts and public statements, believing that if the legislator in question cut $10 million in funding for clean-air programs as retaliation, there would be a tremendous backlash.

In the end, she said, “we didn’t get all we wanted, but we got a better bill” than the original.

She told me that what started as an average fee of about $150 for electric vehicles turned into an average of $120 per vehicle — and it would be phased in over time.

Soltysiak declined to identify the two legislators, saying she just wanted to show what clean-energy lobbyists were up against rather than calling out individuals.

From my observations of the Utah Legislature, such backhanded threats and bullying are not that unusual.

Animal Farm? The civil war inside the Utah Republican Party is getting hotter.

Shortly before the caucus meetings on Tuesday, the Davis County Republican Party posted a warning that any signature-gathering efforts on behalf of initiative campaigns or candidates would be prohibited — except for the Keep My Voice initiative that the hard core supports, to scrap the current law allowing gathering of signatures to get on the primary ballot.

The post also encouraged all good comrades attending the caucuses to report any fellow Republicans they spotted trying to circulate other petitions.

I’m not sure if there is some kind of torture chamber awaiting violators.

The Davis County party then posted a rebuke Wednesday night of U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney for what the party called illegally obtaining delegate information without going through the party politburo.

The post was later taken down and softened, including removing Romney’s name.

The Weber County Republican Party, meanwhile, has indicated it will not release email addresses of the elected delegates to the state party. Candidates must approach the local party leaders with the proper amount of genuflecting to obtain the information.

Meanwhile, the Utah County GOP, which used to have the wackiest of the wacky extremists, is pushing back against the bullying tactics of the hardcore. When the Keep My Voice faction began ripping Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, on social media for attempting to pass legislation ignoring a recent bylaw change that could lead to ejecting signature-gathering candidates in some races, county Party Chairman Rob Craig would have none of it.

He posted a rebuke of the Keep My Voice folks for attacking a Republican incumbent and said he would disallow any Keep My Voice propaganda to be distributed at the caucus meetings.

Just one big happy family, as Ronald Reagan envisioned.

Getting desperate? After many years of dominating the local market, KSL-TV has slumped to No. 2 behind KUTV, with third-place Fox13 nipping at its heels. So, in an interesting move, KSL is reaching out to other media to do stories about KSL’s stories.

It’s not paid advertising to promote its news coverage, which is the traditional way of doing it. Instead, it is an attempt to have the storytellers be the story.

A news release sent to The Salt Lake Tribune noted that KSL would have an in-depth story tackling “all the tough issues surrounding the safe schools conversation,” apparently expecting The Tribune to do a news story about KSL’s story.

In a way, maybe it worked because here I am writing about it. But alas, it’s too late for promotional purposes. That in-depth story ran Thursday night.

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