And in the category for "best show" of the year, the winner is — "The 2010 Utah Legislative Desperadoes."
The Wild West extravaganza broke all records with its portrayal of a band of tough guys who rode into town and with their bluster intimidated the locals, while the sheriff was nowhere to be found. They immediately began to take what they wanted and ignored the pleas of the people, who for years had been crying for real ethics reform, a return to civility and integrity to their state government. The people were hoping they could live in harmony with their neighbors and do what their pioneer predecessors did — look after each other.
The desperadoes exacted ransom in the form of campaign financing money. They promised transparency and instead mocked it by unabashedly passing legislation that would let them accept campaign money contributions without any limits, justifying it by saying they were making it transparent. That's like the Sundance Kid saying, "I told you I was going to rob the bank, so it's OK." They didn't want caps on campaign finance contributions because it limited free speech, when in reality the average citizen cannot afford to pay the asking price for so-called free speech. Free speech has become too expensive.
And the longer they stayed, the more brazen and frantic they became at imposing their will on the people and disrupting any civility folks had come to know. They told the people they wanted to protect them from the federal government. They wanted to have a town that's free from government regulations, then went about imposing their own rules; claimed they believed in local control, then debated whether they wanted to prevent locally elected officials from passing ordinances to protect their gay constituents from discrimination in their communities. And while the town was undergoing tough economic times with longer food and unemployment lines, and empty food pantry shelves, desperadoes were receiving greater gifts for themselves and passing cosmetic ethics laws to stay in office, more concerned about getting gifts than for the more than 200,000 Utahns who depend on the Utah Food Bank for their food.
In previous years, the riders who came to town wanted longer school days; this band came in saying it wanted shorter school days/years and to spend less money, while the school-age population continued to explode. The desperadoes came in demanding that people live by the rule of law, yet they went around it and even railed against established laws such as civil rights.
They boisterously demanded the right to protest against the federal government and for their right to freedom of expression, yet residents who wanted to do the same with a petition aimed at ethics reform were labeled "hucksters," "bamboozlers," "deceitful." And rather than embracing citizen participation, they circled the wagons and made it more difficult for people to voice their opinion, threatening retaliation, even undermining their legal, constitutional and legitimate right to free speech.
The show ended with the desperadoes riding off into the sunset praising themselves for the wonderful job they did.
Missing in this Western is the happy ending where the sheriff finally rounds up a posse and stands up to the desperadoes and tells them to mend their ways or leave town. One is left to wonder if the desperadoes will return with more money in their pockets to continue claiming squatter rights and keep on circling the wagons.
The old Western movies end when a couple of courageous folks stand up together and decent citizens take control of their own town — not a bad idea.
A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch; served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.