Baby Boom | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Baby Boom 

Only Jon Huntsman or an influx of babies can fix the liquor-law problem.

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Over the years, I’ve had the unlucky pleasure of meeting nearly all of Utah’s top elected officials. In the same fashion that I dismiss out-of-hand a good number of them as being better qualified for the position of fire hydrant decoy in an off-leash dog run than for political office holder, most wouldn’t remember me in a positive way, either. Some don’t even know we’ve met—and that right there tells you how dumb they are, since they’re the kind who would glad-hand a cactus if they thought it would make them a buck under the table. But, there are a few I’ve liked for years and some I like still. I’m just not going to name them.

Except for one: Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor, soon-to-be former ambassador to China and likely candidate for president of the United States in 2012. Many political pundits think he can’t even win the Republican Party nomination, let alone the presidency. However, even if that’s the case, a 2012 race would prime him for 2016, which makes for a very nice target considering Huntsman is only 50 years old.

If Huntsman runs—even though he may not need the extra cash, given his family’s financial empire—I hope he calls me so I can make the first donation to his campaign. The first reason I want to do so is because I think Huntsman would make a great president—governing from as close to center as anyone has in Utah for the past 40 years. He was a fantastic governor here, his only black mark leaving us saddled with Gov. Gary Herbert, who remains tethered (though ever so slowly unraveling) to the far right of his party. That means I think Democrats will like Huntsman.

The second reason is because I owe him. If you consider yourself a normal Utahn, you owe him, too. After all, as the Republican candidate, he went way out on a limb with a campaign platform that included liquor reform in Utah—the same liquor-reform initiatives that no Democrat could ever deliver. He would have won with or without that pledge, but as the educated, well-traveled, sensible, nonmyopic statesman that he is, he knew Utah’s draconian liquor laws were a major hindrance to local business development. He also knew the Utah liquor system, already a cash cow, could generate even more revenue for the state. He was right on both counts, and as fast as you can say “we are no longer the laughingstock of the nation,” Huntsman signed legislation that included Utah finally being rid of those damnable private clubs.

Thus, everyone in the liquor, hospitality, travel or Utah promotion business owes Huntsman. However, Gary Herbert—remember him? The guy now sitting in the governor’s seat?—is no Jon Huntsman. Right under his Utah County nose (during Sundance premieres, he’s fond of saying he grew up in the shadow of Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort), a cabal of ignoramus Republican legislators are aiming to undo what Huntsman did.

Remember the former “Zion Curtain” (often made of see-through plastic) that prevented a restaurant bartender from serving a drink across the bar to a willing customer two feet away? Remember how the bartender handed the drink to a waitress, who walked it over to the befuddled bar customer? Discussions on Capitol Hill would turn the Zion Curtain into a Zion Wall. A new bill would require that there could be no bar area, that cocktails be prepared in a separate room (as food is prepared in a kitchen) and that no open liquor containers be viewable from any new restaurant’s dining area. Is that stupid or what? Since they can’t bear to see liquor in any form (though they like spending the money derived from selling it), how about we just build a wall all around Utah and get it over with?

I was in San Francisco recently and ate in about six different restaurants—each one with very visible full-liquor service, each serving mothers and children, each superior to nearly everything you’d find in Utah, each filled to the gills, and each without a prayer of success if they ever relocated here. Yeah, yeah—why don’t I just move to San Francisco, your letters and e-mails will ask. So, what’s your point? That Utah must remain chained to anachronisms and ignorance?

Those same legislators also turn a deaf ear to the hospitality industry by failing to increase the number of liquor permits. New permits only become available when a liquor licensee closes or loses a license or when Utah’s population increases sufficiently to make new licenses available—as the population goes up, more licenses become available. As of this writing, scores of restaurants and clubs are either starving to death without the liquor license that could make them profitable, or are waiting in line for licenses that don’t exist. Utah is business-friendly? Nope.

So, I offer Herbert an idea to move to the middle, a solution that is sure to please both Democrats and Republicans alike. From the right, I suggest Herbert and his cohorts ban all contraceptives—rubbers, diaphragms, the pill, the works—and stop all references to sex (sorry, Chris Buttars, even “pig sex”) and “sex education” to boot. I will join him arm-in-arm in that noble cause, the one Gayle Ruzicka, Buttars and all the rest have sought for years. It’s about time, I say!

Because, from the left, when that movement results in babies falling from the womb faster than the mercury in a February thermometer, we will have a flood of new liquor licenses available in no time. I’ve never said it before, but I hope all those Utahns with too many kids keep on making them.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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