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My view: A 'gotcha' moment in Utah politics

By Maryann Martindale

Published: Thursday, Sept. 8 2011 12:04 a.m. MDT

Gotcha politics usually refers to the idea of catching a politician saying a few ill-chosen words which are then taken out of context and used against them relentlessly. Lanny Davis — special counsel to President Bill Clinton and friend of President George W. Bush — wrote a book about this whole subject called "Scandal: How Gotcha Politics is Destroying America."

However, if the speaker meant what he or she said, or it wasn't recanted or taken out of context, it can hardly be said to be gotcha politics. So riddle me this: Over the weekend, it was reported that Jon Huntsman criticized many of his rivals for things they had said recently. He poked fun at Rick Perry for questioning humans' impact on global warming and referring to evolution as a "theory that's out there."

He criticized Perry for suggesting that Ben Bernanke would be acting "treasonously" if he took certain monetary actions with which Perry disagreed. He scoffed at Michelle Bachmann's suggestion that her presidency would see the return of $2 per gallon gasoline. And finally, he claimed it would take an afternoon to cover all of what he described as Mitt Romney's flip-flops. To all of this, Thomas Wright, chairman of the Utah State GOP, uttered nary a word charging Huntsman with employing "gotcha politics" against his rival GOP field.

Yet last week, Jim Dabakis, newly elected chairman of the Utah State Democratic Party, invited Utah State GOP vice chairman Lowell Nelson and secretary Drew Chamberlain onto a radio program that Dabakis was hosting on public radio station KRCL. These individuals could have turned down the invitation but they did not. They could have answered Dabakis' questions by following the "party line" but they did not. Rather, they charged ahead with their own agendas and uttered their support for ending public education, Medicaid and Social Security.

These are not positions supported by the platform of either the Utah or National GOP and it was reported that all of the participants in the interview — Dabakis, Nelson and Chamberlain — made clear that they were speaking only for themselves in their individual capacities. Yet in response to this interview, which ultimately pitted Republican against Republican and caused a stir in the Twitter-sphere, including a tweet from Michelle Mumford, former vice chairman of the Salt Lake County GOP, saying, "I was strong for HB116 until elected as vice chair of a county GOP that was against it — so I shut my mouth. State officers need to do the same,"

Tom Wright, in an attempt to focus the blame anywhere but inward, accused Jim Dabakis of playing gotcha politics.

To remedy this situation, Wright announced that his party has sent a cameraman to follow and record Dabakis' every movement on his current "Red Rock Tour" where he is attempting to reach out to rural Utah constituents to talk about the redistricting process currently underway in the Utah Legislature. So it seems that Wright may be the one turning to gotcha politics. But Dabakis seems to have responded with good humor and with the view that everyone is responsible for their words as he welcomed the cameraman to the tour noting that "I'm always saying stuff. But I don't care who tapes it. Everyone is welcome to our meetings."

Calling for openness in the political process as opposed to closed-door meetings? In Utah? Now that's a gotcha moment.

Maryann Martindale is the executive director of Alliance for a Better UTAH.

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