Towner, once a Republican insider who made runs at political office, has big-time beefs with Mike Ridgway, a conservative GOP gadfly, gnat and general pain in many people’s asses. So big were those beefs that Towner charged Ridgway with stalking him and his family at an April 2006 Salt Lake County Republican convention. A 3rd District judge agreed to an injunction, but Ridgway has claimed infringement of his First Amendment rights, and so the issue now rests in Utah’s high court.
This might be one of the messiest cases in Utah history, what with all the difficult personalities, cutthroat politics, layers of legal charges and, yes, the Internet. But leave the mess to the courts.
Towner’s case is just one of many that Ridgway is battling, although, for Towner, it’s the culmination of his disdain for both the Republican Party in general and Ridgway specifically.
“My frustration has been with Ridgway and the lack of response from the Republican Party,” says Towner, who quit the party and his state committee positions after the convention. It’s what forced him to take legal action “against this guy for his behavior since 2000,” Towner says.
Ridgway is widely known for a sharp and tireless tongue that gets him into trouble. He has spent time in jail on trespassing charges. Some say he likes to butt bodies; others say he just likes to get in your face.
At any rate, Ridgway has his trespassing case pending in Sandy City Court, where his public defender tried her damnedest to get him to plead no contest and pay a $150 fine. But Ridgway saw this as a kind of Larry Craig trap. Called a diversion plea, it would keep him out of jail until he broke the law again—and Ridgway won’t agree that he broke the law and believes that his friends in the GOP hierarchy will call the cops every time they see him.
Well, for sure, Enid Greene would. And she used to be so trusting. In a witness statement from the trespass incident, she says she’s been “physically and verbally” confronted by Ridgway, and she attached an e-mail from him to the police report that she considers abusive.
It was from the Book of Mormon and includes this little passage: “And I will come unto you, and if there be any among you that has a desire for freedom, yea, if there be even a spark of freedom remaining, behold I will stir up insurrections among you, even until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct.”
While Ridgway says he focused on the freedom aspect of the passage and how his GOP detractors were acting like “king-men” in their greed for power, Greene appeared focused on passages about smiting people down with a sword.
Now, the state Supreme Court gets to deal with Ridgway on the Towner issue. And it’s not just a matter of whether Ridgway’s been hiding in Towner’s bushes. The injunction makes reference to electronic media, which both Towner and Ridgway employ by way of blogs and e-mail.
Towner says one of the questions to be resolved is whether he is being cyberstalked. “[Ridgeway is] pretty competent on computers. I couldn’t even go on my computer without this guy harassing me, and I have been slandered all over the Internet—Facebook, YouTube—OK, I’ve got thick skin,” Towner says.
And he needs a thick hide. One blogger facetiously posts, “Mark Towner Has No Morals and Eats Kittens!” Another says he clubs baby seals. And others question whether he knows “blogger ethics.” Say what?
Sure, Towner is waiting for the court to rule, but he’s not twiddling his thumbs. He’s already registered a new political party name—the Unaffiliated Party of Utah—because he’s just fed up with political machines. He’s gathering signatures to try the political party route.
“I’ve been enough of an insider to see how it’s handled, and the system can be gamed,” he says.
On this alone, he and Ridgway agree.