Thursday, September 24, 2009

What a difference a day and one county further south make...Part One of a summary of the Utah County ethics initiative hearing

Wow. As I expected, the Utah Valley hearing of the Utahns for Ethical Government Initiative was not the calm affair described in Salt Lake County.

I was surprised as I approached the room at the Provo Library and grabbed a name tag from the table. The room was obviously too small and I think the organizers could and should have planned better to allow more people to attend comfortably.

The room filled by the beginning of the organizer’s presentations and a standing crowd eventually formed at the back. I only saw Craig Frank and Curtis Bramble in the room when the meeting started, but most or all of the Utah County legislators arrived by the end of the meeting. I will complement the Utah County legislators in that they stood and allowed others to take their seats. I’ll criticize their obnoxious behavior, along with some others I perceived as mostly associates of the legislators gathered around them, snorting and yelling out in the back.

I’m going to give a blow-by-blow account of the hearing as well as I can. If it bores you, skim I guess. I think many will be interested in the tense atmosphere that developed and the strange offhand comments that I managed to record. I think a meeting like this is where a blog can really fill a need, not having the space limitations of the newspaper. I think I did a pretty good job of getting a lot down, but I know some of the facts, figures, and quotes will be a little fudged since I was trying to listen and summarize at the same time. I’ll indicate when I am extra unsure of what I heard. I also apologize in advance to anyone whose name I mess up. There were many participants whose name we only heard announced once, but could not see written, and I’m sure I did not get them all.

The meeting opened with Ned Hill welcoming the attendees and introducing Karl Snow, former BYU professor and Republican President of the Utah Senate. Hill emphasized Snow’s service as a Republican every this and that for 30+ years as well as his serving as a Mormon ambassador to the United Nations last decade.

Karl Snow, speaking along with a powerpoint presentation: We've waited 20 years for ethics reform. Why? 40 states have independent ethics commissions of some sort. He mentioned the 4-4 votes on multiple charges in the Hughes bribery hearing last year, all split along party lines. (Actually they just said the votes happened during the hearing of “a legislator.” The presenters did not use the names of any legislators or companies when making their case, but I’ll add those names that were obvious to me.)

The Legislature is controlled by special interest money. 81% of campaign donations come from the contributions of special interests. There are no limits on contributions of any type in Utah—1 of only 6 states w/o campaign contribution limits. Corporations are not allowed to contribute to federal races, but 2.45 million in corporate donations were received in Utah within the last…I missed this because of typing and maybe the lady I will mention just ahead. Since 2008 maybe?

Since 2006, one corporation spent $500,000 contributing to Utah politicians of both parties. This corporation contributed to 80% of sitting legislators and frequently has business before the entire legislature. He didn’t say, but I’m pretty sure he had to be referencing Energy Solutions. In Utah, a politician can become a lobbyist one year after leaving office. (He did not mention that this restriction only became law this summer after dozens and dozens of prominent legislators have gone on to lucrative jobs as lobbyists immediately after service over decades, including Greg Curtis, Mike Dmitrich, and Mark Walker this past session.) A legislator can be a registered lobbyist at the same time as serving in the legislature. (Howard Stephenson would be the most prominent here, although there was at least one other, a Democrat woman in the legislature during the 2008 session.) Snow thinks all of this should change.

[ A lady went down the aisle during these last comments, passing out two documents listing arguments against the initiative with the word “DRAFT” in big red letters on the top, blithely ignoring Karl Snow as she interrupted him and obstructed the view of many as she whispered to each row saying something to the effect of, “These were outside and weren’t passed out.” At least one of the documents was authored by Lyle Hillyard, possibly both. I’ll detail the arguments in a different post, but it pulled one current GOP buzzword out to rally opposition that came up later in the meeting. There were 2 numbered points calling the members of the commission “czars” and the sponsors of the initiative “super czars.” Funny. Don’t link them to Ted Kennedy, instead link it to Van Jones and the national healthcare reform debate. As the woman reached the front, right in front of Snow, blocking everyone’s view, and then turned back down the aisle passing out the papers to the other side, Ned Hill stood and said “I wish you would have asked before passing this out. The woman said something vague about Don Jarvis (who was helping with sign-ups and ushering in the back) telling her that her paper “should probably be in here.” Hill told her that opponents could hold their own meeting and pass out things. Much of the crowd cheered that remark.

The kicker is that I overheard a well-dressed woman who was against the initiative discussing the flyer after the meeting, as discussions broke out in little groups all over the room. She referenced the woman passing out the flyers by name, said she went in without permission, recounted what Ned Hill had said about holding your own meeting, and quoted the flyer-passer-outer as saying “I didn’t know” with an exaggerated shrug, all of this while laughing, strongly implying that the woman had been dishonest while intentionally interrupting. (I can’t remember either name, the woman speaking afterward possibly had the last name of Sherrill.) I’ll have more on this woman’s comments in a different post as well.]

I will have to finish this in a different post or maybe even two. Sorry I didn’t even get to the real presentation or the public questions. I have a crick in my neck from where I fell asleep while sitting at the computer.


Barbara said...

I wasn't able to attend the meeting, so I really, really appreciate the time and effort you spend recounting it here. Can't thank you enough.

Sara Brate said...


As usual, great work on these four, detailed posts outlining what you experienced at the Provo public hearing! I noticed the video has been posted on the Lieutenant Governor's YouTube page. Since I'm watching the videos anyway and I'm familiar with your posts, I thought I'd help your readers by linking to the video that these particular posts pertain to. I think your insight is still very useful because a lot of what you talk about happens off camera.

Thank you so much for your dedication and hard work. (Not just on this blog, but in the classroom, as well!) I know in one post you mentioned that you haven't decided where you stand on the initiative. When you do decide I hope you'll let us all know.

I feel like it's about time that something be done. Something has been long overdue. If nothing else, I hope that this will prompt legislators to pass real reform during the next legislative session. That's all anyone really wants. It's because the Legislature hasn't ever done anything meaningful and that has pushed the citizens to take matters into their own hands!

This post comprises all of Part 1 and up through the first few minutes of Part 2.

The interruption by the flyer-passer-outer occurs at 1:45 in Part 2.

The flyers were most certainly brought by Rep. Craig Frank. He uses the "Czars" and "Super Czars" in a blog post he wrote on Oct. 5. If he didn't personally come up with it then he used it on his blog and didn't give credit to the actual source.

UtahTeacher said...

Wow and WOW Sara! Thank you! This is beyond fabulous! Thank you for all of the work!

I've definitely decided now and have a lot to post...I just have to get some other things done too. It appears that some of the meetings were lightly attended. Too bad.

I'll point out two things quickly. There were two cameras present at the Provo. The one close to the front that these videos were taken from and another one from BYU in the middle of the room right in the middle of the crowd. I've noticed that you can't hear much of the crowd noise from this particular camera in front. I wonder if BYU will post their footage somewhere. Otherwise, what was the point of filming it?

Rep. Frank may have brought the flyers personally, but the points were written for the express intent to be used as talking points. Sen. Killpack wrote the two talking point papers and presumably coined the "super czar" labels which have been parroted faithfully by various people now. They were distributed at recent legislative meetings and are kind of a game plan for the ethics initiative opponents.

JBTalcott said...

I would be interested in having a copy of the two Republican talking points papers. If anyone has them let me know. Thanks.