Who Killed the Liquor Business? 

Gov. Herbert's just the water boy

By and large, writing this column for so many years is probably no different than writing about a Utah-BYU football game when it comes to topic. Just as the two football teams play each other every year, and just as the rivalry never changes, just as the fan bases stay the same, and just as whichever team is on top gets to gloat, writing about life in Utah or Utah politics is just like that football game. The only things that change are the players’ names.

If you picked up a column from 20 years ago recounting a Utah-BYU football game, you’d pretty much read the same story you will this fall when they play again, save that it will be someone else catching the long pass or kicking the winning field goal. If you had read this newspaper 20 years ago, you’d pretty much read the same story now as you did back then. The only thing sucking differently about Utah’s politics and liquor laws is that the dominant players suck more.

But, politics and football have a major difference. Go back 20 years, and the rules of play for a football game have remained basically the same. The field is just as long and wide, scores are tallied the same and each team fields the same number of players who put their pants on one leg at a time. That’s not so for our politics, though. Every time there appears to be a bit of equity in Utah life—that the members of the non-dominant culture might have a gasp of living space—the rules change. Political boundaries change to ensure that Democrats or Independents cannot be elected in numbers proportionate to their base. The football equivalent would be that the bigger team gets four attempts for a first down, but the smaller team gets one.

But, the extremist and threatening politics of the far right equally ensures that moderate Republicans and sensible Mormons are disadvantaged, too. Smart folks just won’t run the rabid-right gantlet. In this modern world of Utah politics, we are left with this: The best hope for non-Mormons are moderate Mormons, who sensibly will not run (or if they win, remain silent), because far-right and sometimes crazy Mormons rule the day. Crazy people need representation, too, but gaming the system makes it so they don’t just represent, they dictate.

Soon enough, Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Crazytown, will unveil Utah’s latest effort at disenfranchising the minority when the newly gerrymandered maps are revealed (Utah was named one of the nation’s worst examples of gerrymandering in 2001—wanna bet we top it this year?). Given what has been shown so far, the Utah Legislature will become even more Republican. Which means Democrats and Independents will need moderate Republicans (who are mostly Mormon) to do their bidding. So, who’s it gonna be?

Gov.  Gary Herbert, perhaps? Nope, he’s had chance after chance and has proven he has no legs. Herbert—like all recent Utah governors—touts Utah as business-friendly with a highly educated work force (anxious to do Third World labor tasks at minimum scale for any corporate bidder wanting to relocate here). So, the corporate bidders come, and we make their yogurt and computer chips—but we never see Mr. Dannon or Mr. Intel at the table across from us at the local restaurant. That’s because Mr. Dannon and Mr. Intel are not fools—Utah is a great place to find abundant, cheap American labor, but a really crappy place to enjoy a meal.

And it will get worse. Sen. John Valentine’s, R-Cellestialville, liquor bill is making a stinking mess for Utah. A recent lawsuit filed by the Utah Hospitality Association against the governor and state may or may not prevail, but it shows how far Utah has fallen regarding being business-friendly. The suit shows that Utah welcomes neither the world nor big business—Utah is in the business of gouging and bullying businesses that are not purely Utahn, and the world is rapidly learning that.

Waddoups and Valentine own Governor Herbert. They know it. He knows it. But, he won’t even punt. Punting—letting the other team have a chance at the ball—is against the rules in theocratic Utah, where fair play and democracy have left the building. Valentine, for one, won’t be happy until all non-Mormon Utahns pack their liquor and brown-bag it out of town. He’s picking off Utah’s hospitality industry one bar and one restaurant at a time. Waddoups is laying down the illegal blocks and keeps moving the yardage marker, pretending he doesn’t know the rules.

And Gary Herbert is their water boy.

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