Chris Buttars, the consistent curmudgeon, explained in a late-night retirement speech the campaign philosophy he adopted long ago. “You may not agree with me but you’ll always know where I stand.”
Close to 1 a.m., after the Legislature had officially adjourned for the session and after Sen. President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, had thanked colleagues and staff, he yielded the floor to the West Jordan Republican, to announce his retirement from the Utah State Senate.
Buttars addressed the body in an emotional speech where he hearkened back to his days as a West Jordan City Councilman, where came up in city politics when the farm community was on the cusp of a growth explosion. Heated zoning debates tried Buttars’ patience, especially since at the time he was busy juggling a wife and six kids along with a calling as a High Counselor in his LDS ward. He thought he’d call it quits with politics until republican leaders asked him to run for the senate.
By then he had already crafted his own proudly defiant brand of politics that he would apply his first senate bid in 1994. “I would go to all the homes and I told them… I’ll tell you how I stand and I don’t want to know you stand. You may not agree with me but you’ll always know where I stand.”
The 69-year-old senator proved this to the end of his legislative career, as he drew audible groans from audience members in the senate’s public gallery in the waning hours of the session as he spoke against efforts to amend a bill that would allow doctors and health facilities to refuse to do abortions on moral grounds.
Buttar’s campaigns of defending traditional values cemented his place as a champion to conservative groups like the Utah Eagle Forum. He’s also drawn enough criticism for his unfiltered talk to make himself into a caricature of Utah ignorance. He’s faced sanction in 2009 for telling a documentary filmmaker that homosexuality was “the greatest threat to America,” whilethe previous year Buttars drew national headlines for criticizing a bill as a “black baby” a “dark and ugly thing.”
In reading a prepared statement, however, an emotional Buttars made clear where he modeled his absolute certainty on traditional values. “I love America,” Buttars said choking up. “I love the traditional values and the absolute moral truth that our founding fathers wove into the fabric of the U.S. Constitution.” Buttars also defend this inflexibility as something that set him apart from other politicians, arguing he “never had an issue to promote a personal agenda just to improve my chances of reelection.”
Indeed Buttars has championed causes in past sessions that have even put him in line with Utah democrats--like his tireless support of the progressive Drug Offender Reform Act, a pilot program that sought to coordinate judges, parole officers and treatment experts to better collaborate on treating drug offenders rather than just throwing the book at them. Even in this session Buttars played the role of a maverick on key debates.
He was the only republican to vote against the controversial House Bill 477--the bill re-writing Utah’s open government records laws. Buttars challenged the bill for being rushed through the legislative process without proper vetting and input.
The same evening Buttars caused progressives to do a double-take for going against his own party on HB477, he was also the only republican senator to vote against Sen. John Valentine’s liquor bill.
In fact, he was the only senator—including democrats—to speak and vote against it.
In that debate he qualified he had no interest in alcohol but questioned the state government’s heavy-regulation of liquor license quotas. “I don’t even know why we have quotas,” Buttars said. “It just seems like legislative creep to me.”
For critics and supporters, everyone knew where Buttars stood. And for both friends and enemies, his resignation was the cause for celebratory applause.
“Getting old isn’t for sissies,” Buttars said. “It’s time for me to retire and pass the torch to someone else.”