Monday, March 15, 2010

When One Party Rule Goes From Uncomfortable to Appalling

Appalling: adj., inspiring horror, dismay, or disgust.

Utah State House Majority Leader Kevin Garn getting into a hot tub naked with a 15 year old when he was 30 is appalling.  Paying this woman $150,000 to keep quiet about it so as not to ruin his political career is appalling.  Expecting the public to believe that nothing else happened between them is appalling ($150,000 for just sitting there?  Hmmmm).  Only confessing 25 years later when the story was about to become public anyway is appalling.  It is made more appalling that he is a member of the church and an elected leader of our state.  This is all appalling.  The story inspires me to horror, dismay, and disgust.

Perhaps the most appalling thing, though, is that when he finished making his speech at the end of the legislative session on the floor of the state House, he received a standing ovation from his fellow legislators.  They congratulated him on being so brave and coming clean.    And if you are masochistic enough to read the comment section of the Deseret News story I linked above, you will find the vast majority of commenters applauding his courage and eviscerating that poor girl.  I feel like we are living in some bizzaro world where up is down, dark is light, courage is cowardice, and right is wrong.

This is not an attempt to go after Republicans.  I am fully aware that awful scandals like these happen to politicians of every political persuasion.  This is about one-party rule.  Republicans have ruled the legislature in Utah for decades by huge margins.  As a result they have become insulated, detached from all consequences of their actions, and completely out of touch with Utah voters.  So when one of their own admitted to being a pedophile on the floor of state House, a crime that would have required years in prison if the statute of limitations had not run, they applaud him and refuse to call for his resignation (he resigned anyway).  He is one of the club, they like him personally, and full-throated support of his actions would carry no consequences politically.  That, my friends, is the definition of appalling.

I lived in Oregon for a little while after graduating.  Oregon is the opposite of Utah (though to a lesser degree).  It is a liberal state with Democratic control of the legislature and governship.  While I vastly preferred its policies to Utah's (strict urban planning, environmental protection, health insurance for all, emphasis on public transit), I had every intention of voting for a Republican for governor just to keep the Democrats honest and to make sure they didn't get too comfortable with their power.  We didn't live in Oregon long enough to make that election, but I know that the problem cuts both ways.

Now, lest you think this will be a strictly non-partisan post, I want to also make a point about intra-party orthodoxy.  Besides the fact that the Republican party has somehow become entangled with religious belief among many Utahns, the reason why one-party Republican rule is dangerous is because it is a party that requires a higher degree of orthodoxy than Democrats.  The current Senate Majority Leader is a pro-life Mormon who opposes the legalization of gay marriage.  Can you imagine Republicans electing as their congressional leader a pro-choice atheist who supports gay marriage?  The strongest pro-life voice in Washington right now is Democrat Bart Stupak.  Can you imagine the leading voice of the pro-choice movement being a Republican?  The strongest conservative voices right now are Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the Tea Party Nation.

There are no strong moderate voices in the Republican party right now (which has not always been the case).  The Democrats, as evidenced by the health care debate, are ruled by moderates.  If it wasn't so we would have a universal health care system right now (or a public option at the very least), stronger environmental protections, no lingering military presence in Iraq, no fear of trying terrorists in criminal court, and tough regulation of the runaway financial system.  Some call the inability to unify the party behind important issues a weakness, and from a political standpoint it is because they are less likely to make the big changes we need.  But a diversity of voices within a party is actually a good thing.  Orthodoxy, like the threatened house cleaning of the Republican party by the far right wing, is bad.  It's bad for democracy.

I would love nothing more than principled liberals with upstanding moral character, the voters' best interests at heart, and a George Washington-like ability to eschew power, to dominate our politics.  But I'll repost the quote from Joseph Smith that seems more and more prescient every day:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

The decades-long one-party rule by Republicans in Utah has created a generation of untouchable Republicans.  Even states viewed as traditionally one-party dominated like Massachusetts, the Dakotas, Washington, Oregon, and Kansas regularly elect opposite party governors and Senators.  But Utah doesn't, and the consequences are appalling.


Daniel H said...

Don't forget that this is only the latest in a string of scandals the untouchable dominant party has suffered - the Senate Majority leader, Sheldon Killpack who loosened DUI laws was arrested on a DUI and resigned.

Former Rep. Mark Walker, is now a lobbyist who had quit the Legislature and later plead guilty to an elections-law violation stemming from his attempt to induce his opponent in the state treasurer's race to drop out.

Yes - I'm sure these are just the tips of the iceberg - and I say we throw the bums out!

Tom said...

We in Oregon can match you story for story. Only our malefactor are more likely to be Democrats. Why? Because you can only sell power when you have some, and your "youthful indiscretions" are not scandals of the same level if you're a minor player in the opposition.

It's power that tends to corrupt. Hence the value of a functioning two party system, not to mention good investigative journalism, and honest law enforcement.

Good luck.

Jacob S. said...

Thanks Tom, and I love the point about investigative journalism. Utah's is weak and (naturally) doesn't want to offend those who have been in power for decades and are likely to be in power for decades to come. I think stronger journalism would make a big difference.

Daniel, thanks for the reminders of the all the scandals we've had recently. If you combine those scandals with the fact that the incumbent isn't very popular (compared to his predecessor) and wasn't ever elected as governor, this would seem to be a year where someone like Peter Corroon could have a fighting chance. He has a successful track record as mayor of Salt Lake county and he is a fiscal conservative. Almost anywhere but Utah, in any case. I have a feeling that the only thing that matters is the D next to his name, and he'll get trounced. So depressing.

Daniel H said...

Mr. Corroon and other Democrats are receiving my support this year - I'm actually campaigning for the Democratic candidate that covers my area - and I think that if everyone could see and understand that most Utah Democrats are D.I.N.O.'s and not the crazed left-wing liberals, but normal, moderate people like you and me, they could get elected.

But then, we have to break down the mental block that people have thinking that G.O.P. stands for "God's Own Party."

Iliana said...

I agree, more than sickening. But it isn't just Republicans so any link to the "one party system" in Utah seems a little off. And Dave's dad was on the floor that night and tells the story a little different than a standing O. He said there was pure silence by most and it was awkward and bad and most people left right after instead of their usual "patting on the back end of session hupla" due to the discomfort of it all.

Iliana said...

Oops, just saw that there was more:) Got it that you're not just insinuating Rs. And I agree a few of them need to be out of jobs asap. But I still argue not all those Repubs were praising him and thinking it was okay. I bet a vast majority were sickened and dissapointed and wondering if he would be getting some jail time.

Jacob S. said...

I hope you are right, Iliana. Everything I've read and heard is that he was applauded by the legislature after he was done, but that up in the balcony where the public sat the feelings were different and there wasn't so much applause.

GreatWhiteHope said...

Well, if you read it Jacob then it's probably true. You say you're a moderate but you're as warped as the alleged Repubs "applauding" the scandalous loser you mentioned. You would back a Democrat to the grave. You need to break away from your "two-party" system mentality, that IS the problem. Republicans not voting the will of the people, Democrats not voting the will of the people, it's the same thing! Oh yeah, and you need to repent.