When a pair of Utah lawmakers who had long championed nuclear energy turned up this fall working together to build a nuclear power plant, it shocked even Jordan Tanner, who thought he’d seen everything during 10 years as an ethics reformer in Utah’s Legislature.
“The denial of the two that there is a conflict of interest is so contemptuous of the public interest, the degree and magnitude of money involved and the benefits to be derived by those two representatives—during my decade in the House I never saw anything hit that level.”
As a result, he says, the public “is not only interested in ethics reform but almost demanding it.”
So, with calls for reform ringing in the air and Utah legislators converging on a newly renovated Capitol for the 2008 session, City Weekly is presenting awards—the Piggies—to a short list of lawmakers who, through hard work and tenacity, have outperformed their peers in turning part-time elected office into a full-time gig.
There were plenty of contenders who didn’t make the cut. Like the legislator/boxing manager who tried to disband Utah’s athletic commission after the body sanctioned his trainer. The legislator/insurance broker who ran a bill for an insurance company, after that company forgave his old debt. The legislator/pediatric dentist who proposed boosting Medicaid payments—but only for pediatric dentists. The legislator/lobbyist who runs a donation-funded lobbying group for big business.
The list of nominees was long. Readers may argue with our picks. Just remember, not everyone can be a winner.
Best Comedic Performance:
Rep. Mike Morley, R-Spanish Fork
Rep. Mike Morley, R-Spanish Fork, keeps Utahns in stitches with his “tough cop” stance on illegal immigration by supporting legislation to cut in-state college tuition for children of undocumented immigrants. Now, for the upcoming session, Morley is sponsoring a bill encouraging companies to hire illegal labor by letting employers off the hook for having to pay for their work injuries. Hey, if immigrant kids can’t afford college, they can always look forward to a promising future in construction helping build charter schools at Morley’s U.S. Charter Development company. With Morley partnered up with former lawmakers Jim Ferrin and Glen Way, charter-school construction will have lots of job openings. Just don’t forget your hard hat.
Morley came into power in 2002 to fill state House District 66, one of the most conservative in the state. He took the seat over from his current business partner, Glen Way.
Way, a developer by occupation, set Morley up as his successor after a restraining order issued against Way by his wife Shelina forced him into early retirement from the Legislature. Way still keeps in touch, though. His joint partners in U.S. Charter Development include fellow former lawmaker Jim Ferrin as well as Mike Morley.
As a prominent Utah County construction magnate, Morley hit up construction and development business buddies like Way for campaign support, and has been riding a river of special-interest money through every election since his first victory in 2002—over $9,000 from development, realtors and construction lobbies.
In a December, 2007, Labor Committee meeting, Morley proposed a bill for the upcoming session that would prohibit workers from drawing medical benefits for on-the-job accidents if they couldn’t prove legal status to work. Morley argued that if they legally shouldn’t work, then they shouldn’t receive benefits from work-related accidents. The punch line: This is after they’ve already paid into the worker’s compensation fund.
So who pays when an undocumented worker breaks his leg on the construction site?
Mike Martinez, a Salt Lake City attorney and Latino’s rights advocate says undocumented injured workers’ medical costs will end up being covered by Medicaid or other taxpayer-funded services. Morley’s bill is “not legislation you’re going to want to pass if you want to stop companies from hiring illegal aliens. It’s actually penalizing the public. We’re the ones who have to pick up the tab,” Martinez says.
So, who benefits? Since construction is one of the top industries for serious work accidents—and since experts say most construction jobs are filled by illegal labor—anyone who owns a construction company would stand to see insurance premiums drop faster than a bucket of nails from 10-story-high scaffolding, including companies like Morley’s M-13 and his joint venture, U.S. Charter Development.
Ferrin, an Orem Republican and Morley’s business partner, was notorious during his time in the House (2000-06) for pushing pro-charter-school bills such as HB172, which made it harder for city councils to turn down charter-school construction within their cities.
While Morley didn’t sponsor any charter school bills himself, he can’t deny that U.S. Charter Development also dumped $14,000 in donations to Ferrin’s campaign fund to try and get him re-elected in 2007. Ferrin lost, but with 58 charter schools now in operation and eight to open next year, the charter biz is going strong.
You are too funny, Mr. Morley. Please, someone, stop this guy. We’re all laughing so much we’re in tears … but seriously, stop it. No, seriously—stop it.
What Critics Are Saying
“He’s [Morley] the type of person that will be the first to complain about ‘welfare moms,’ even though he’s got his snout right up to the public trough, and even uses his political power to clear the way to the trough.”
—Joel Bradford, Utah Valley State College instructor and Democratic challenger to Glen Way in 2000.
—Eric S. Peterson