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Best of Utah

Best of Utah 2009: Media & Politics

Salt Lake City's news scene.



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Rep. Jason Chaffetz

Who knew? What the people want in a congressman is a cheapskate. Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (newly elected for 2009) made headlines by announcing his intention to sleep on a cot in his U.S. House office rather than take an apartment in godless Washington, D.C. The stunt landed Chaffetz on national news shows, The New York Times, and The Colbert Report (where he got to leg wrestle with the host). “Cot guy,” as Chaffetz is known, also filmed an MTV-style reality series on CNN called Freshman Year. Now all Utah’s 3rd District needs is a representative on the floor.

Sarah Palin’s Vice-Presidential Candidacy

Utah has long been the home of bad baby names. However, when Palin skyrocketed to national prominence as John McCain’s running mate, we learned that, in Alaska, it’s possible to have a whole pallet o’ young’uns with names like Bristol (for girls), and Track and Trig (for boys). Granted, LaDawna and Shy-Anne (for girls) and Vernell (for boys) are even worse—but the bar has been lowered, and they’re not nearly as shocking as they were before.

Taylorsville Police Department

City Weekly
ran a May 22, 2008, cover feature about a custody fight between former friends over a Boston terrier named Oscar. The story charted the bizarre and highly questionable behavior of Taylorsville PD as cops allegedly did a favor for a cop from another precinct by bullying the rightful owners into giving up the dog. Once the story was published, something even more disturbing was reported: City Weekly’s west-side news stands were emptied the moment they were filled. A barista from a west-side coffee shop called to report someone came in and grabbed the papers where she worked and stashed them in the trunk of a squad car. To date, no one has copped to paper thefts. If this comedy of errors weren’t based on an actual Utah police organization, it would have made for a highly entertaining Reno 911 episode.

Gay Rights

By approving Prop 8, a ban on same-sex marriage, California voters sparked a wave of opposition with the eye of the protest storm smack dab in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. Enraged by the LDS Church’s funding a significant chunk of Proposition 8’s campaign, activists converged on the LDS Church Office Building to protest in the streets—quite literally marching down the middle of North and South Temple chanting, “Separate! Church and State!” From that day forward, local GLBT groups came to life with renewed determination for equal rights. Their positive approach to combating bigots like Sen. Chris Buttars is a hopeful sign of things to come. We shall overcome.
2. Liquor Laws
3. Air Quality

Adriaan Boogaard

Salt Lake City public utilities employee Adriaan Boogaard’s off-the-clock commitment to the Jordan River is infectious. His unflagging enthusiasm has helped elevate the 60-mile-long waterway in the minds of politicians and media by frequently invitating them to join him on canoe tours of the Jordan. Boogaard’s love for the river extends beyond such artful lobbying, though. He also spends every waking hour clearing the Jordan’s banks of clogging weeds and dragging out shopping carts from some of its murkier stretches. Utah’s most urban waterway is all the cleaner, more verdant and wildlife-rich for his passionate commitment to its future.

Chris Buttars’ Supporters

Why would anyone run against our beloved Chris Buttars—the man protecting us from gay school clubs, Darwinists and “black babies?” His opponent must be gay. So, apparently, went the thinking of supporters of the West Jordan senator who launched a whisper campaign against Buttars’ Democratic opponent during the 2008 campaign. It’s certainly true that many gays were, for understandable reasons, financially backing Democrat John Rendell against Buttars. But that doesn’t make the candidate gay—as Rendell’s wife was forced to point out in last-minute phone calls attempting to squash the rumor.

Chris Cannon

Even after he was defeated for reelection to Congress, former-Rep. Chris Cannon kept doing his best for the GOP—by trying smearing then-candidate Barack Obama as a terrorist. The congressman’s brother-in-law, after discussing it with Cannon, offered an Oxford professor $10,000 to compare the writing style of Obama’s Dreams of My Father with Fugitive Days, a memoir written earlier by ’60s radical William Ayers. Republicans had accused Obama of “palling around” with Ayers during the campaign and apparently wanted to prove a wakjob theory that the “terrorist” Ayers ghostwrote Obama’s book. Fortunately for America, the Oxford expert didn’t take the job.

Sen. Chris Buttars

“In years to come we’ll all look back at this point in history and see it as a crossroads,” wrote Chris Buttars in a statement about the backlash from his latest serving of ignorance-du-jour, comments he made that homosexuals were the greatest threat to America—even likening them to the threat of Islamic radicals. Yes, Buttars, perhaps this is a crossroads in history. Hopefully, not one where the ignoramuses of the world rally behind your moral crusade against the “Pink Menace” but rather one where we see the quiet extinction from politics of the wheezing political beast scientifically classified as “Homophobosaurus Buttars” but that we so lovingly know as just Buttars. Sadly, since you’re still years away from another election, I guess we’ll just start getting the 2010 award ready now…
2. EnergySolutions/Nuclear Waste
3. Legislative Ethics

Mark Walker

It was a year of infamy for former state Rep. Mark Walker. First, the Sandy Republican was the target of a legislative ethics investigation in fall 2008 after allegations surfaced he tried to pay $50,000 to a rival candidate if he would drop out of the state treasurer’s race. Walker copped a misdemeanor plea in that case in January 2009. Less than a month later, Walker was on Capitol Hill, working as a registered lobbyist, with a client list that included the Cigar Association of America, the cities of Ogden and Sandy, SelectHealth and Southwest Ambulance. No revolving door issue here!


Republicans in the Legislature are such drama queens, spending all their time on big, operatic, earthshattering issues that have no chance of ever being resolved. But it’s the little things that make life worth living—little things like Sunday brunch. A quirk of the law makes it illegal to order a Mimosa in restaurants before noon, which pretty much defeats the purpose of brunch. Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, set out to change that during the 2009 session—and his Brunch Bill very nearly succeeded. We hope he tries again next year.

Trax & Frontrunner

Few partnerships between the public and private sectors have attracted as many naysayers as public transportation. Yet, despite some sort of dodgy glitch in the way passengers were counted, TRAX light rail has proved so enormously popular UTA can’t lay in new extensions fast enough for many ’burbs. Likewise, critics of Frontrunner commuter rail said the Salt Lake City-Ogden line would be carrying empty trains when the Legacy Highway opened—and then fell silent when ridership vastly exceeded initial projections. Predictably, those numbers dropped when gas prices fell—but anybody who believes gas will stay cheap forever is living in a fool’s paradise, and those who think public transportation is a communist plot will never get it.
2. Education
3. Zoo, Arts & Parks

Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman

Some parents with children at Mount Herriman Middle School blew their corks when a 30-year veteran teacher dared mention masturbation and homosexuality in a health class. The teacher was suspended while an investigation of the incident took place. But before anyone could utter “check your facts,” Wimmer began blustering about sponsoring state legislation to attach criminal penalties to teachers who tiptoe beyond the bounds of Utah’s “abstinence only” sex ed policy. Let’s see … Lousy pay. Forty-five kids to a classroom. And jail time for talking about s-e-x in class. Who wouldn’t want to be a teacher in Utah?

Sugar House Hole

What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you see a group of local businesspeople joining forces to create a vibrant, offbeat, economically viable commercial district? If you’re a corporate land developer, it’s, “This looks like a job for urban renewal! Let’s knock it all down and put up a beige strip mall!” Then, of course, your next step is to get city money for the ‘renewal’ project, evict all the shop owners, and raze the neighborhood. And then the next step? What next step? That gaping chasm looks fine as it is. Screw those hippies, anyway. I was robbed, man!

UTA transit cops

Some Utah Transit Authority TRAX riders—who must have been unoccupied, having forgotten their scriptural reading assignments for the commute—reported to transit cops on the morning of Oct. 27, 2008, that a fellow passenger was wearing nothing below the waist. UTA officers escorted the woman off the train at the 5400 South station. During questioning, they realized the woman was wearing a micro-miniskirt, which was concealed under her long jacket. (Anyone hearing a song by Cake in your head?) The, um, examination ended and officers let her back on the train.

Rep. Eric Hutchings

It’s a funny thing how most conservative legislators think a good slathering of “market forces” will solve all our problems and yet, when push comes to shove they’re pretty reluctant to give up their government benefits. That’s exactly what happened when Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, proposed a bill that would revoke state lawmakers sweet state health-care plan, give them a cash equivalent of the program and force them to buy their own insurance in the labyrinthine of private health care. Hutchings, who has seen his own mother fight through mountains of paperwork and burn through a lifetime’s worth of personal savings just to receive Medicaid to treat her bone marrow cancer, thinks his fellow legislators need to see what the health care system is like for us mortals. Hell of a nice message bill, Representative. Too bad it never made it out of committee.

Utah’s 2009 Legislative Ethics Reform

The 2009 legislative session has seen a whole slew of ethics reform bills proposed on the Hill. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t make up for quality. On closer examination, most bills had enough loopholes in them to allow legislators, lobbyists and special interests to go skipping, hand in hand, laughing all the way through the bills’ inadequate protections. One bill would prohibit legislators from becoming lobbyists for at least one year after leaving office. Unfortunately, the bill would only prevent legislators from going to work for a lobbyist firm; they would still be able to be hired by a major company like IHC or Zions and be paid solely to lobby their former colleagues on the Hill, without waiting one year. Another bill would actually make it so candidates won’t have to list in-kind contributions. A few bills will make a slight difference, but overall, it looks like business as usual at the state Capitol.

Raucous Caucus

Kudos to Salt Lake Film Center, KUED, the League of Women Voters, the ACLU of Utah and High Road for Human Rights for hosting a bevy of screenings to motivate voters to the polls during the fall ’08. Films such as Uncounted, Critical Condition, Iron Ladies of Liberia, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Taxi to the Dark Side, Water in the Southwest, Flow, Liquid Assets, Latinos & Politics and Heat. The series culminated in a monster Raucous Caucus weekend Oct. 24-26, featuring special guests Phil Donahue, Michael Kirk and Naomi Wolf who introduced and discussed films like Bush’s War, I.O.U.S.A, Body of War, The Lost Year in Iraq, Cheney’s Law, The Choice and The End of America. Never mind that Utah voters came out for McCain—Democratic candidates won a number of important local races and loosened Utah’s Republican stranglehold just a smidgen.

League of Women Voters of Utah

As good government groups such as the now-defunct Utah Common Cause dropped off the map and ’70s-era activists retired, it seemed that to have any idea what was going on at the Legislature, you would have to hire a lobbyist. Thank goodness for the League of Women Voters of Utah. The League, energized in the past several years with new volunteers, has assembled a crew of citizen eyes and ears at the Legislature that now rivals any local news outlet. And the League has embraced the Internet so you can enjoy the fruits of their labor from the comfort of home or office. During the legislative session, the League sends out daily updates about bills going through committees with explanations written for the layman. The League also provides regular legislative updates on KCPW and KPCW public radio. All that and the League found time to push for cleanup of Utah elections and legislative ethics. It’s comforting knowing that the League’s “observer corps” is on the Hill, simply watching the Legislature.
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Save Me From My Senator

The “Chris Buttars Scares Me” Website, put up by the West Jordan state senator’s opponents during the 2008 campaign, raised money for Buttar’s Democratic opponent John Rendell with a contest offering an iPhone to the person coming up with best reason to “get rid of Buttars.” The site (which remained up after the election) has collected 101 reasons, including “he seems too focused on gayness for a man who isn’t.” Also collected are Buttars’ best (or worst) quotes (“I think Brown v. Board of Education is wrong”), and a series of “scary stories.” Alas, results of the 2008 elections showed that West Jordan still loves its Buttars, and the folks behind remained unsaved.