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News » Private Eye

Uphill Bill

Asking for normalcy when the opposition isn’t normal.


Such is the degree of nasty on their nasty meters that each year, Utah’s talking heads engage in a local competitive sport trying to create newer, bigger and badder adjectives to describe certain members of the Utah State Legislature. For example, there’s not a derogatory word in the English language— and several other languages—that has not been applied to Sen. Chris Buttars. He’s been called everything but right.

But calling Buttars names does no good whatsoever. He has no shame, his moral compass is stuck on self, he appears to be afraid of both life and death and he seems to revel in being offensive. Heaping scorn on Buttars has the same effect as a pitchfork does on a snowdrift. There is no effect. The pitchfork just musses a few snowflakes here and there, but the mountain of snow remains. Heaping scorn on Buttars is a complete waste of time. I know. I’ve done it. Yet I can see what’s coming, too. This week, a liquor bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, made it out of committee.

That’s news in itself. This one, though, is as important as any that has ever been presented to the Utah House and Senate, as it would eliminate private-club memberships, a notion considered impossible for nearly four decades now. Hughes’ bill makes sense.

Private clubs will dissolve into a new tier of social-club license not requiring membership fees (except certain fraternal and equity-type private clubs), and those clubs will install electronic ID-scanning devices to prevent minors from entering instead of wasting time checking expiration dates on club-membership applications.

The Hughes bill also includes language that will give up the ghost on Utah’s liquor charade known as the Zion Curtain, by which liquor served in a restaurant is supposedly kept from view of minors and cannot be handed to a paying customer over a bar or counter. Hughes’ bill will do the logical and practical—minors will not be allowed at those bars and counters. Is there hope for Utah?

However, there is no equivalent bill being driven through the Senate where Buttars and his pack still prowl. Buttars may have lost a couple of highly visible Senate positions with his latest spew against gays, but he remains positioned to help torpedo this and any liquor bill perceived as being liberal. And any liquor bill is considered a liberal liquor bill in Utah. It should surprise no one if Buttars—with help from his equally antiliquor friends such as senators Waddoups and Stephenson, Eagle Forum’s Gayle Ruzicka and MADD—puts a coda on his 2009 legislative antics with another ignorant tirade against liquor plus the vote to go with it. They will all say that they really care about underage drinking but provide no data to support their notions that private clubs somehow prevent underage drinking. They will say that private clubs cut down on drinking generally. They will say that without private clubs, they won’t be able to track where a drinker has been, even though tracking club memberships has nothing to do with drunken driving. You cannot trust what they will say. Especially MADD. As far as I ever knew, MADD was an honorable, dedicated and worthy organization. What mother is for drunken driving? None I know of. MADD’s local chapter is not directed by a mother, but by a father—Art Brown. No one seems to know how many local members MADD actually has—some say it’s just two people, counting Mrs. Brown, who once famously claimed, “We have a right to know where someone’s been drinking.” Since when? Their detractors regard the Browns as liquor prohibitionists who have usurped MADD’s message about safe highways.

They may have, but I don’t care. Remember last year, when the Utah Legislature made it legal to pour an extra half-ounce of liquor into a mixed drink? You can debate that it was important for Utah’s tourism perception to serve a stronger drink to Utah visitors all day long. The real consequence of it was putting more booze in every drink served in Utah all day long. More booze in a drink means more booze in the body and that means more drunken drivers. Neither MADD, nor the Browns created an uproar about that. The whispers on Capitol Hill say such silence was the price for special funding for liquor education. If so, that is some kind of erratic driving.

Heaping scorn on Buttars has the same effect a pitchfork does on a snowdrift.

At the end of the day, it’s money and politics, including that the right-wing Senate leadership will oppose anything supported by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., the prime motivator for this bill. The Republican Senate leadership doesn’t care about your child or mine. They don’t care about your liver or your gall. They don’t care about safe highways made safer. They don’t care about trusting clubs to do their business honestly without the impeding restrictions that add to liquor consumption and drunken driving. They care only about how they run things and they want to run things their way with all the impunity God gave them. And if a few more people are killed on Utah’s highways along the way, they, as always, won’t even know they are equally to blame. It’s they who put more booze in a drink, it’s they who waste time of club personnel with needless paperwork, it’s they who motivate people to drive to Wyoming or Nevada to buy their booze, it’s they who think a club membership tracks drinkers but which instead causes people to pour their own drinks at home—and then drive. It is they who should be at the receiving end of a Dram Shop liability suit. That’s what Hughes is up against.

Huntsman and Hughes ask for normalcy. The opposition isn’t normal.