From amending the broad language of the sex-education bill to taking on the influence of the Eagle Forum, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, didn’t flinch from taking on his own party in the 2012 Legislature -- the same kind of behavior that, perhaps not coincidentally, left him in a redistricted house seat that would favor Powell’s newly filed Democratic challenger.
This week's CW cover recapping the 2012 Legislature spotlighted the work of some key legislators. One to watch for in the upcoming elections is Powell, who seemed to have no trouble picking fights with his own party and who may pay a price for it at the polls in November.
Throughout the 2011 redistricting process, committee members emphasized that the transparent process was not favoring one party over another, even citing the example of House District 54 as one where redistricting would likely favor a Democrat over the Republican incumbent. That incumbent just so happens to be Kraig Powell, who, before redistricting began, grabbed headlines after the 2011 session by publicly saying he and others had to vote for House Bill 477, the bill to rewrite Utah’s open-records laws, or face retaliation from the Legislature’s leadership.
Powell may have been put in the doghouse by that, and as a result the boundaries for his house district were moved to encompass all of Park City, a liberal stronghold in Utah.
During the 2012 session, Powell continued to cause a ruckus. He introduced House Bill 89 that would have made GOP legislative caucuses open to the public. That bill never made it out of the powerful rules committee, where legislative leadership decides what, if any, committee a bill should go to first. He also successfully amended House Bill 363 during a committee hearing. The bill, by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, as it passed both houses allows schools to drop the teaching of sexual-education courses, but if they do teach them there can be no mention of contraception, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality or the intricacies of sexual activity.
But as Wright first proposed the bill, it would have allowed for no discussion at all of such topics and worried some legislators that it could extend to other classroom settings. Powell amended the bill in committee so it only explicitly prohibited the “instruction” or “advocacy” of such topics and didn’t go broader than that. In the committee, Powell’s motion caught him an ugly glance and some resistance from the committee chair.
“We have rules, Mr. Chair, and if you’re going to rush through the legislation and rush through committee, you’re not going to get good bills,” Powell said, after which the amendment was passed favorably.
Even on the last day, Powell spoke to a bill affecting school districts and took the opportunity to lambaste the Eagle Forum, the conservative, family-values citizen-lobby group that is a major power player on the Hill. A fellow legislator chided Powell for his decorum for railing against the Eagle Forum.
Powell now faces a challenge for his House seat from Chris Robinson, a Democrat and current Summit County Council member. With the addition of Park City to Powell’s previously Republican district, this wildcard might not know if he’ll be in another hand at the Legislature until after he finishes a tough race in the fall elections.