At what point and after how many infractions, can we expect to see Rep. Karianne Lisonbee and Rep. Kera Birkeland held accountable for defying the norms and rules that govern Utah’s Legislature? Is House leadership rewarding this breakdown in competence or just waiting to see if things play out in their favor before deciding what to do about it?
Last week Lisonbee and Birkeland impulsively sent out a flurry of threatening letters on official Utah House Legislature letterhead, without the approval of the legislature, or the Attorney General’s Office, or Legislative Legal Counsel. The letters were a mechanism to carry out what can only be described as a personal vendetta against their political enemies.
A day later, it occurred to them that tweeting does not make something true, and rough drafts on laptops do not make law. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on the blowback and their immediate backpedaling. But instead of apologizing in a good faith way, they made excuses.
This behavior is destructive reputationally to the legislature and incompatible with the rules for official use of letterhead (JR1-3-201). But mostly it reveals a dysfunctional system that has no way to detect or correct its errors. Just ask the high school principals Birkeland interfered with in June.
As a state representative, Birkeland assumed she had the authority to ignore Utah State Board of Education official positions, based on medical and educational research, and sent her own biased perspective on transgender students to school administrators on official Utah Legislature letterhead. Similarly, Lisonbee’s impetuous remarks inevitably require retractions and clarification. Rogue behavior like this should either be met with disciplinary action, or at least a required rudimentary class in government and public policy.
In their two-person echo chamber Birkeland and Lisbonee must have convinced each other that they were above the law, because they blatantly disregarded 3rd District Judge Andrew Stone’s ruling that placed a hold on Utah’s abortion trigger law. Birkeland and Lisbonee just didn’t have the patience or the civility or respect for the law or the courts or the other legislators -- so in the vicious vocabulary of a mean girl’s fantasy, they penned and mailed their letters.
Mailing threatening communications is illegal under federal law and can carry harsh penalties if convicted. So, it took a surprising lack of common sense and excessively poor judgement to carry this through to completion. It strikes me that Lisonbee and Birkeland keep repeating the same blunders yet lack the humility to ask for help.
To howl about the primacy of life while treating fellow citizens as if they are your subjects is corrosive. If this is the behavior that people are taking their cues from, it is no wonder that the breakdown in trust is on a scale we have never before experienced in our politics or society.
Kathy Adams is a writer who lives in Salt Lake City.