When Republican legislators on Capitol Hill decided to punish citizens who challenge government in court, they sent a frightening message to anyone who cared to listen: There is no room in Utah for disagreement on important issues of the day.
For those who watched Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh come to power, it’s only the latest, if perhaps the most extreme, example of the New Right’s take on governance. Somebody, somewhere, determines the national, state or community course and you taxpayers out there need only be obedient. The philosophy holds in disdain the notion that dissent is the cornerstone of democracy.
Things may have moderated somewhat nationally, but not here. The evidence isn’t just that we continue to name state buildings after conservative savior Ronald Reagan, but that Republican lawmakers don’t want open discussion on any issue. From education to transportation, these politicians push their agendas in closed caucus.
The case, of course, that everyone has been watching involves the embattled “Legacy Parkway” that has been halted by the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals until it can be determined whether environmental laws were followed concerning the plowing over of wet lands. Republican legislative leaders were so angered that they rammed through a bill that would make those who brought suit pay the $100,000-a-day penalty now being gifted to contractors by the Leavitt Administration. That the state set itself up for this money pit apparently is outside the view of lawmakers’ blinders.
Fortunately, there is one flicker of statesmanship on Capitol Hill. The honor goes to Gov. Mike Leavitt, who vetoed the bill under heavy fire from his Republican colleagues. That Leavitt badly desires the highway makes his credit that much larger. The governor now finds himself at odds with the angry, self-righteous mob that dominates Utah politics. In making the veto, Leavitt had enough vision to see that taking litigation away from the citizenry where government is concerned is simply outside the American political ethic. That may be an ideal so far above the heads of Republican state legislators that explaining it to them seems practically impossible.
But as is the case with an elected representative form of democracy, we get the government we deserve. Utahns continue to vote into office people who don’t seem to have a rudimentary knowledge of democracy, statesmanship or the open process of government that builds confidence rather than cynicism. No doubt most are products of the Utah public school system—the same system they leave in mediocrity for their children year after year.
Ignorance may be bliss, but perhaps a better quip is one attributed to 19th-century British historian Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”