Utahns face government secrecy, some welcome legislative inaction and a chaotic caucus

Why have there been unseasonable blizzards in Utah in March?

Because the Utah Legislature has made all the calendars secret.

Beehive State lawmakers went on a tear in the recently completed session, passing bill after bill that had as its main goal, or as an aside, taking some document, official process or body and removing it from public view.

The bill most of us noticed, SB240, retroactively allows Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to keep his official calendar a secret. After a state judge said he shouldn’t. And, while they were at it, legislators also allowed every other government official, state or local, to hide their comings, goings and meetings with who-knows-who as they conduct official business. Your business.

Meanwhile, SB211, pushed through with the personal sponsorship of Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Mike Schultz, created a new state bureaucracy to, among other things, go looking to other states for new sources of water for our parched state. And it made all the work, research, negotiations and spending of that creation secret.

There will be no more important issue for Utah going forward than our water supply. Which means there is no issue that is in more need of public oversight.

Maybe Adams and Schultz just don’t want us to know how loudly other states will laugh at them when Utah asks to buy some of their water.

Other bills clamped the lid on information about endorsement contracts signed by student-athletes at state universities and contact information for public officials.

This trend toward secrecy among our elected officials, aided and abetted by Gov. Spencer Cox, is something Utah voters should stand up and object to at every opportunity.

Salt Lake City Council has its own problem keeping things public

Meanwhile, the Salt Lake City Council demonstrated that it also has a problem with doing the public’s business in a public way. Though through the other end of the microscope.

Council members last Monday unanimously passed — with no prior notice, debate or chance for public input — a new policy that sharply limits the opportunity for public comment at council meetings.

It is possible to have some sympathy for council members, who have been suffering through long harangues from visitors demanding council action on such non-city matters as calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Limiting the time such public comment can take up at council meetings can be reasonable. So can insisting that such comments focus on matters that are properly before the council — police, streets, zoning.

But adopting this new policy with no public notice — “Because we can,” in the unwise words of council Chair Victoria Petro — is unacceptably dismissive of the public’s role in its own local government.

The council should take another run at setting a policy on how it accepts public comments. And this time include the public in the process.

Some good news from the Legislature: Stuff they didn’t do

The 2024 regular session of the Utah Legislature provided plenty of cause for concern, even alarm. But there was good news, too.

Mostly stuff lawmakers didn’t do.

Left on the cutting room floor were really bad bills that would have required a 60% vote for voter initiatives requiring new spending or taxes, removed the ability of cities to run elections with ranked-choice voting and moved the state away from its highly successful universal vote-by-mail system.

Another bill that, fortunately, didn’t survive the sausage factory was one that would have allowed developers of a gravel pit planned for Parleys Canyon — and others that might come after it — to bulldoze its way through local regulatory authorities.

Lawmakers wisely rejected two attempts to ban pride flags from state classrooms. And the Senate voted down a bill that would have allowed local school districts to post unlicensed, untrained chaplains in their schools.

“If we open this door, we will have literally no control over who walks through it,” South Jordan Republican Sen. Lincoln Fillmore correctly said of the chaplains bill. “I think that we will come to really regret this bill if it passes when we see the results.”


Utah Republicans show their disdain for democracy by mucking up another election

The state of Utah knows how to run elections. By mail, with plenty of opportunity for voters to thoughtfully participate in the process.

The Utah Republican Party, on the other hand, likes to fix stuff that isn’t broken and, rather than conduct a state-run primary election like most states (and Utah Democrats), ran its Super Tuesday presidential primary as a statewide series of caucuses that turned into a colossal mess.

Given that the party raked in $300,000 — $50,000 from each of the six candidates on the ballot — by charging campaigns for a chance to be voted for, one might think they could at least make the computers work.

But people who showed up at high schools and community centers couldn’t get registered. Couldn’t cast their votes. In many cases, they just gave up and went home after hours of frustration, driving down the number of good and faithful Republicans who had a voice in the process.

One is left to wonder if that wasn’t the point.

So many powerful Utah Republicans continue to favor caucus/convention systems over primary elections, a preference that deliberately limits the number of people who participate and skews the results toward the far right of the party.

Consider that in Tuesday’s Utah caucuses, former President Donald Trump outpolled former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley by a mere 17 percentage points — one of his smallest margins across the 15 Super Tuesday states. (Except for Vermont, which Haley won.)

Utahns will always be left to wonder if Haley might have done even better — or even won — in Utah if all Republicans, not just a true-believing few, had been able to have their say.

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