Stewart Walz: Utah should be managed by facts, not by ideology

Being run by ideologues is the greatest danger facing the United States.

(Laura Seitz | Pool) Gov. Spencer Cox delivers his 2022 State of the State address to all Utahns, House and Senate members, Utah Supreme Court Justices, State Auditor, State Treasurer and Utah Attorney General at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.

Gov. Spencer Cox’s said in his State of the State Address that the United States is the last best hope of the world and Utah is the last best hope of the United States. Let us consider the second half of that statement.

Seeing Utah as the last best hope of this nation can be called myopic, hyperbolic, kowtowing to the Legislature, political hogwash, or all of them. But, as the last five and half years have proven, it is patently false. Utah is little more than a deeply red state that embodies what may be the greatest danger facing the United States, it is governed by ideologues.

John Geer, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University wrote, “The core problem facing the country today isn’t polarization, per se. It is that we are ignoring evidence and making decisions purely on ideology.”

If Utah is to be an example for other states, let its government start making decisions on facts rather that ideology, or more specifically, names. Shakespeare got it right when Juliet says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.”

What if, instead of using terms like liberal or conservative, Mormon or Gentile, Republican or Democrat, as a basis for action, we determine if a proposed bill, regulation or action is honest, ethical, non-discriminatory, fair, just and fact-based. There is plenty room for debate within those terms, but I submit decisions based on those criteria will be better than those decisions based on “Utah values” or some other amorphous standard.

How about a concrete example? I have a ubiquitous one, capitalism vs. socialism. During the 2020 campaigns, Rep. Chris Stewart and then-President Donald Trump stoked fears that the Democrats would lead us into socialism. Socialism is bad, and capitalism is good, so their story went.

Why, then, has Stewart never advocated eliminating that great bastion of socialism perpetuated by the state of Utah, Utah Liquor Stores? Here the state has a socialist monopoly on the sale of wine and hard liquor. About 80 miles east and 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, capitalism in the liquor sales flourishes, yet it is against the law for someone to patronize the capitalists if he wants to bring their product back to his home in Utah.

Is this situation bad or good? I guess the Utah Legislature and Stewart think it is good, and that, in this instance, socialism is better than capitalism. Therefore, in at least one instance a socialist monopoly is better than a free market according to the state of Utah. A trivial example, yes, but it is illustrative of the point that good or bad depends on facts.

Is capitalism always good? Not if you listen to Nobel Prize-winning economist John Maynard Keynes, who wrote, “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

Was he right? Sometimes he was, if you consider, for example, the actions of the rapacious capitalists over 100 years ago. Yet, there are countless examples of Keynes being wrong, where capitalism has spurred great advances that benefit society. Is socialism always bad? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Cox said Utah is a hopeful example because of the way problems are solved here. In this I totally disagree. Too many times Utah confronts problems ideologically, not factually.

Gerrymandering is bad and a majority of Utah voters said so. Yet the Utah Legislature gerrymandered away to keep its ideology in power and the governor acquiesced.

Gun violence continues to rage here and elsewhere, yet the Legislature continually does nothing to curb it because of its unthinking obsession with Second Amendment ideology.

A free, public education is a cornerstone of our society, yet teachers are underpaid, under appreciated, and the Legislature rather than school boards tells teachers what and how to teach, based in part on ideology that the Constitution is divinely inspired.

Individuals rooted in medicine, science and public health recommend measures designed to decrease illness and death from a virus the likes of which we have not seen since the polio epidemic. Yet the “freedom” ideologues, with little consideration of the concept of social responsibility, hold sway over the scientists.

Gov. Cox, unfortunately Utah is not a model in problem solving. Instead it is a shining example of action based on ideology, not on a careful analysis of the facts and competing principles.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart Walz is retiring after 41 years of service in the federal government. Most of his career was spent prosecuting white-collar crime. Salt Lake City, Tuesday Feb. 27, 2018.

Stewart Walz, Sandy, is a former assistant U.S. attorney for Utah. He retired in 2018 after 41 years of service in the federal government.