Utah is a phenomenal place. We have beautiful deserts, picturesque mountains and, January notwithstanding, a nice climate. We have another natural wonder that’s unique because of its non-existence: We don’t have conflicts of interest here.
The historic rule for citizens who step up to serve their community, state or country is that not only should they not have a conflict of interest, but there shouldn’t even be the appearance of one. That tradition is solid in its foundation. If it appears as though community and political leaders are lining their pockets, it undermines the entire system and leads to cynicism, a breakdown of values and eventually lawlessness.
That may be true for most places, but in Utah we’re different. We are such a good, wholesome and religious people that no one needs to worry about conflicts of interest here. Gifts, money and pandering to special interests could affect decision making elsewhere, but not in Utah—we are not that kind of people.
That is why proposed legislation that would identify gifts to our state legislators is completely unnecessary. Tickets to the Utah Jazz or weekend vacations to Park City or St. George or other gifts won’t sway our lawmakers from making difficult decisions on the big issues facing them. Mistakes are sometimes made—like the case with HB 320, which deregulated natural gas and other utilities—but that has little to do with lobbyists or the gifts they foist upon our leaders. After all, it’s not polite to refuse gifts.
Most legislators realize the voting public knows little about the detailed issues facing our complex society, and they are right to depend almost completely on highly skilled lobbyists to keep them informed and even write the legislation that will, in the end, help all of us. That may be hard for us little people to understand sometimes, but we ought to take it on faith.
The same is true for religion. Although 90 percent of our Legislature is LDS, our lawmakers easily separate themselves from the Mormon church and its beliefs when doing the public’s business. Recent statements by experts outside Utah claiming there is no separation between church and state here have been slightly exaggerated. That is evidenced by the fact that individual legislators meet at separate LDS ward houses on Sunday, rather than at the same ward.
Sure, we have restrictive liquor laws and a porn czar and it seems like our leaders are always trying to legislate morality, but that goes on everywhere, doesn’t it? Utah isn’t any different that way than any other moral, God-fearing place—like South Carolina or Mississippi.