GRAMA Bama 

Hillyard, Waddoups, Lockhart: Someday, these names should be as scary to children as Adolf, Muammar or Saddam.

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I was in St. George recently when the earthquake struck southern Utah. More correctly, I was just outside of St. George proper, eating breakfast at The Egg and I, when I learned that Utah Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, had just called for repeal of HB477—the notorious secrecy act recently passed by the Utah Legislature, then modified, then signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. For Clark to break party ranks, along with other southern Utah House Republican Reps. Brad Last of Hurricane, Evan Vickers of Cedar City and Don Ipson of St. George was nothing short of earth-shaking news.

It may be that fate had me sitting in Clark’s district when I got the good news—The Egg and I sits at an intersection that takes a visitor into Santa Clara. So, besides having the best breakfast I’d had in four days (forget the overrated Bear Paw on St. George Boulevard unless you like cold coffee, cold food and colder service), I may have gotten that news right at Ground Zero. I won’t get too giddy, though. I’m happy Clark and the others stood up after the fact, but when a legislative body is so dominated by one party, there could be all kinds of face-saving dances and dramas going on.

For instance, I no longer think the only Republican to vote against the original bill, Sen. Chris Buttars, did so because it was the right thing to do. I think he did it because he knew he was going to retire in a few days anyway, and his meaningless vote against HB477 was just for party appearances. I’m a bit suspicious, especially given that the bad dogs in the Utah Senate are less susceptible to public scrutiny right now because none of them have an election facing them this fall.

In the week since the 2011 legislative session ended, a public outcry seldom seen in Utah caused politicians to piss themselves at every opportunity as they spun in the wind with their zippers in the down position. Even the females. It may appear that this outcry is proof positive that the little guy really does have an opinion in a free society, and that when lots of little guys get together on a common theme they can create positive changes to that society. It may also appear that the Republican leaders who created the fear around HB477 and who devised the secret method to whisk it to passage are looking down from their imperial heights—oblivious to the public they serve, as if they’d never heard of Marie Antoinette.

You know what happened to her.

I’ve read how some of these poor things up on Capitol Hill think GRAMA is just an excuse for the media to go on fishing expeditions and look for the dirt that will embarrass an elected public official. They love to blame the media, you know. A page from Sarah Palin, that one. But here’s the truth—if they did the public’s business in public, there would be no reason to go fishing. If they are caught in a lie, it’s news, not trout fishing. If they are caught in malfeasance, it’s a crime, not bass bait. If they act in secret, it’s like chumming at night on Strawberry Reservoir—it’s illegal. And if it’s illegal, the public has the right to know about it.

Anyway, you don’t need GRAMA to find something embarrassing about politicians.They often have enemies close to them, and when a story breaks, those informers run free and clear while the media take the hit—are you reading this, Governor Spineless? If one doubts that, then just think for a bit whether it was a GRAMA request for hot-tub-parlor records that brought down former Rep. Kevin Garn last year. Former Sen. Sheldon Killpack didn’t become drunk by drinking GRAMA martinis before he got his DUI. And those legislative pervs arriving from the hinterlands to pick up Salt Lake City prostitutes of either gender during session and getting caught every couple of years? Not GRAMA.

GRAMA is in place to insure that our government does not behave the way it has this past month. It’s not there so the media and public can intrude on private conversations—all those legislators have to do is not mix their public and private affairs. But, instead of paying $30 a month out of pocket for a private phone from which they can send dirty messages to their mistresses free and clear of GRAMA, they’d rather undo the public trust in democratic institutions.

Let’s see how far the monsters go. Hillyard, Waddoups, Lockhart—it’s my hope that someday those names are as scary to children as Adolf, Muammar or Saddam.

They are tyrants and they’re wrong. But we’re nice guys. In 27 years at this, I have never seen—not once, a reporter at this newspaper or elsewhere—deliberately go after a politician just for the sake of embarrassing him or her. Oh, we could you know. In spades. Really.

Just ask the former Republican public official who we learned had posted online images and video of him and his wife having sex. Poor bugger thought the photo-hosting site was secure. Uh-uh. Someone brought it to our attention thinking we should run a story on it. After weeks of legal vetting, we ultimately figured he’d made a stupid mistake and what he did—pretty well, if I recall—was on his dime, not ours. It was salacious, but it wasn’t news, and it was nobody’s business. In other words, a personal matter. But public policy is our business—and he can thank his lucky stars that he was doing his screwing on a beach and not in the secret back offices where our senators, representatives, governor and attorney general prefer to do their screwing of the public these days. 

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