For most of my 25 years in Utah, I’ve found the actions of our state Legislature to be somewhere between head-shaking amusement and downright embarrassment. The nanny-state liquor laws and Second Amendment sanctuary proclamations, the “Get the U.S. out of the U.N.” chest thumping and proposals to seize federal lands are just a few of the scores of ridiculous bills this less-than-august body has deliberated. Just last month, some lawmakers alleged widespread 2020 election fraud in Utah, even though Republicans won nearly every race except for president, and all appeared on the same ballot.
More recently, though, the rhetoric and action to spew forth from the state Capitol are just truly appalling. Many have written in this newspaper about the egregious miscarriage of representative democracy that was the decennial redistricting just passed in special session and signed by our obsequious governor. This was a textbook example of gerrymandering and will allow the legislature to fail its citizens for another frustrating 10 years.
With the voters of Salt Lake City “cracked” into four different districts, we’re sure to be stuck with same four representatives or similar sycophants for the next long decade. Speaking of that party-before-country bunch, they should have no say whatsoever in how our federal funds are spent in Utah since they and Sen. Mike Lee uniformly voted against the national infrastructure bill.
As for our governor, his slavish devotion to the Legislature above the state’s citizenry has removed all power the executive branch once had to balance zealous lawmakers. According to the governor’s website, of the more than 460 bills passed in 2021, Cox vetoed a grand total of three. He may need to resupply the ink for his rubber stamp. The appointed rather than elected Utah Supreme Court is similarly unlikely to challenge the Legislature’s megalomania. Even though “elected,” Utah’s attorney general also never contests the wishes of Republican providence in Utah and routinely pursues frivolous, expensive and unwinnable lawsuits.
With this cabal of conservative conformists, Utahns have to endure much lunacy; take for example, their howling resistance to vaccine and mask mandates as affronts to freedom. Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, both real estate developers, are confident they know more than doctors and public health officials about disease and pandemics. By their illogic, we should also end the oppressive vaccine mandates of polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and others currently required of Utah’s schoolchildren and college students.
While they’re protecting freedom, why have seatbelt and car-seat laws, hard hats, steel-toed boots and safety orange vests? Shouldn’t those be individual and business choices? Why continue to allow such onerous government overreach? The same goes for smoking; it’s a personal choice that only harms the smoker. Oh, wait, second-hand smoke spreads just like COVID. So much for illogic.
These same infinitely astute legislators are convinced they know a lot more about climate change than scientists. With warming temperatures, declining snowpack and reservoirs, a disappearing Great Salt Lake, air pollution, two decades of drought, forest fires and scores of other environmental crises, they turn to fossil fuel lobbyists and right-wing propaganda for misinformation. They have to do this; otherwise, it would impossible to continue pushing disastrous proposals like the Utah Inland Port Authority, Bear River and Lake Powell water diversion projects and the Uinta Basin Oil Railway.
Then there is public school instruction. Apparently, our representatives and a rabid bunch of parents are much more knowledgeable about education pedagogy, curriculum standards, testing and evaluation and student performance than university-trained teachers and professional educators. One proposal would require most K-12 material to be vetted before it’s delivered to our fragile children. That way, schoolkids would never need to learn about slavery, evolution, LGBTQ discrimination, climate change, systemic racism, the big bang, Native American genocide, sex education, American imperialism, nor anything about religions, races and places other than their own.
With these, and so many other, unforgivable failures, our Legislature, governor and federal representatives have graduated from mostly embarrassing to truly harmful.
In the end though, this dreadful bunch of self-serving politicians is the result of Utah voters. In a typical election, roughly 55% of Utah adults vote a sheep-like straight Republican ticket. Another 20% of Utahns can’t be pulled away from their Facebook feed, TikTok videos and Netflix streams to even bother to register or to vote. That leaves the last 25% of us, spread between districts, unrepresented and deeply frustrated, for at least another 10 long years.
Eric C. Ewert, Ph.D., is professor and chair of the Department of Geography, Environment & Sustainability at Weber State University.