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Private Eye

Utah Phonies

State's splendor & beauty masks rotten core

By John Saltas
Posted // June 5,2013 -

Utah has so many fantastic offerings that it’s hard to know where to start. From salt or red-sand deserts to alpine peaks and low riparian valleys, from scenic wonders to scenes best left as backgrounds in horror films, Utah really is unparalleled in its visual diversity. Utah is a playground, a tapestry, a majesty. Utah sucks the breath right out of you and lays you bare. The visual and adventurous scope of Utah is as grand as one can find on planet Earth.

Why then, I wonder, does Utah do so poorly when it comes to matching its majesty with its manhood? On the surface, Utah looks like a place where only the strongest come to live, where the hearty thrive, where patriots abound and where people of sound mind are, by birthright, bound to make ethical and correct decisions, simply on the predication that Utah is a physical and historical structure that does not suffer fools. But the reality is that the culture that now thrives amid all that majesty allows the weakest to take root and the hearty to be pickpocketed. Patriotism ranks no higher than any other state, while false patriots and false prophets are as numerous as “thous” and “thees” in a holy Bible.

While many Utahns on any side of a political fence talked about what’s best to do for Utah, or how best to integrate a rich pioneer and ethnic history into a modern world, something went terribly wrong. In the midst of all of our daily lives, in the midst of our select history and right under the ridges of Utah’s grandest peaks, a new Utahn emerged: the corrupt, pocket-lining, lying scumbag. That particular fellow or woman evolved in inverse proportion to Utah’s largess. If Delicate Arch rates a perfect 10 in natural beauty, these folks rank a negative 10 in ugly attributes.

Do those people, those corrupt, pocket-lining liars, pay for their unethical or bad behavior? No, not in Utah, where for no particular reason—outside of dumb trust, ignorance and blind faith to party or religion—we keep electing or promoting to positions of high power persons who couldn’t otherwise succeed at finding a tree in Sherwood Forest. Let me apologize up front, with all due respect, to those elected officials who are indeed hardworking and ethical. And with all due respect to the concerned and honest men and women scions of local industry who daily trudge before our Main Street office, let me apologize to you also.

But we all know there are others among us, elected and promoted, who are not hardworking, ethical, concerned or honest. I only have two words for them, but common sense (which rarely befalls me) and our editor’s red pen prevents me from writing them here. But you get the drift. Use your own two words. Fill in my blanks. I’m pissed. We all should be pissed.

Tell me, how is it that Utah—full of morally upright and sinless residents as it is—comes to elect and hold in high regard people like Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow? And, how do we keep doing so, knowing Shurtleff and Swallow are only the latest iterations of the crappy, self-serving Utah politician? Or that Shurtleff and Swallow will someday be afterthoughts, when Utah elects the next batch of even crappier and more self-serving men or women?

I am a Democrat. I’ve voted for Republicans. I even voted for Shurtleff in his first run as Utah’s attorney general for Utah. So, I’m not without sin. However, as a Democrat, I remember the scathing renouncement that all of my fellow Democrats suffered in the aftermath of the arrest of Allen Howe for soliciting a prostitute in 1976. Howe was a Utah Democrat serving in the U.S. House of Representatives when he made his famous blunder somewhere on West Second South, which at that time was actually thriving (some of the thrive albeit coming from physical motion).

Howe lost the election. Republican Dan Marriott became Utah’s 2nd District Representative in Congress. But what really stung—and what has lingered for years—was the storyline that Democrats are immoral sleazebags who cavort with whores and drug dealers and are otherwise unfit for public office. That storyline continues today.

Meanwhile, the litany of shame brought to political office by the likes of second-story men like Shurtleff and Swallow is voluminous. Who hot-tubbed with the teenager? Who was picked up on gay-sex solicitation charges? Who was the Senate leader who ran off with his intern? Who had the DUI arrest? Yeah, all Republicans. All LDS, too, by the way. One may say religion doesn’t matter, but that would be a lie.

It’s easy for men like Shurtleff and Swallow to curry favor in their LDS wards or circles of religious influence. The LDS system rewards such men. That’s not my issue. Mine is that the system also rewards mediocrity and, apparently, has no filter for weeding out even the slimiest fellow members—Swallow ran as a moral, family-values man, for example. Yeah, right. I don’t have my abacus in front of me, but by my quick reckoning, Shurtleff and Swallow alone have undone the work of any 100 LDS Church missionaries and certainly shouldn’t be associated with the branding of our state as a great place to do business.

On the outside, Utah is historic storytelling, spectacle and grandeur. On the inside, Utah is cat guts. We can paint the picture of beauty, independence and ruggedness. And we can also continue electing creeps. Sooner or later, we will be recognized as one or the other—grand or creepy. We are leaning toward creepy. Or creepier, depending on how long one has been paying attention. 

Twitter: @JohnSaltas

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Post a comment
Posted // June 6,2013 at 18:42

John I've always thought you were the best writer the State of Utah has to offer, and you've proven me right again.


Posted // June 5,2013 at 19:30

Wow, John, I hadn't thought about the impact of the Alan Howe incident in the Utah politisphere.   I was a young reporter at KWMS Newsradio 1280 back then, covering the event but not recognizing the ramifications.   The final swing toward the GOP really was happening around then.

I also interviewed this unknown guy from Pennsylvania named Orrin Hatch, coming away with the firm impression that there was no way he could defeat Frank Moss.   He was just too strident in his right-wing convictions.  

After his success, I realized that Democrats were on their way out, for good.   Once Wayne Owens left office, I figured that was it, and Jim Matheson hasn't changed my outlook.

Man, how I miss his dad!


Posted // June 5,2013 at 11:28

The electoral institutions underlying what you complain of create incentives for temporary officeholders to loot -- and not preserve -- the jurisdiction's wealth.

Economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe spells this dynamic out in his academic work, as have others (see also F. A. Hayek's essay "Why the Worst Get on Top")

But like a fish that does not know that water is wet, many cannot grasp that democracy is antithetical to ethics.

It's no accident that on programs like "Survivor," the weakest contestants band together to vote off the strongest contestants. Special interest groups engage in similar rent-seeking behavior using democratic processes.

Choose market over power. Withdraw your consent to be governed.