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Jay Evensen: Firing squads, smart cars and a broken state fair

Published: Wednesday, May 21 2014 6:45 p.m. MDT

A pair of Nissan Leaf models are being charged at the new car charging stations at 255 E. 500 South Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Hugh Carey, Deseret News

Spring is sprouting everywhere in Utah, and so are my observations about current events. Here are a few:

Firing squads: Efficient, painless and just plain nutty. That sums up the arguments for bringing back death-by-firing-squad in Utah.

Utah is hardly the death-penalty capital of the United States. Texas has that honor, having executed 515 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the punishment in 1976. Utah has put only seven inmates to death during that time, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. And yet three of those brought much more international attention to the state than any of the hundreds in Texas, because the condemned chose the firing squad.

And yet state Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, is leading a push to bring back firing squads, which were outlawed here in 2004 for all but people convicted before that date. The impetus is a recently botched lethal injection in Oklahoma, along with new difficulties obtaining the drugs necessary for that method of death.

But with Texas, Oklahoma and host of other states far more experienced and practiced at this, why not let them lead the way? Utah won’t be executing anyone for a while. We don’t need to shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak.

If the Legislature does anything, it should remove the choice from the inmates on death row. Let the state choose the method of execution.

It’s not just the headlines that Ray’s proposal has been generating this week. It’s a matter of dignity and consideration. In the past, the attention given the firing squad elevated condemned murderers to a status that overshadowed their crimes and the pain of survivors. Utah should remember those lessons and not lead out on this issue.

Transit: Media attention can be a fickle, and often inconsistent, thing. The world may view Utahns as strange for considering firing squads, but it also finds folks here remarkably civilized when it comes to mass transit and clean-air initiatives.

Time magazine this week lauded Salt Lake City, the metro area and the state for its commitment to TRAX, FrontRunner and bicycle lanes — “commuting alternatives normally found in cities 10 times larger,” author Josh Sanburn said.

He could have added Salt Lake City’s new electric vehicle fast-charging stations, located southeast of The Leonardo downtown. Mayor Ralph Becker announced the stations at a press conference Tuesday. They can charge an electric car in less than an hour, according to a press release.

Sure, other conservative Western states may balk at public spending for transit, charging stations or the imposition of tough Tier 3 standards for vehicle emissions. But it turns out that having to choke on the stagnating air of frequent inversions has an effect on political perspectives.

Charitable giving: Utahns donate their time and money more than people in any other state, according to a new Gallup survey. Almost half the people here said they do both. Minnesota came in second.

Being of Norwegian descent, I’d like to view this as a statement on the value of Scandinavian ethics, but I know there is more to it. Whatever the reasons, this sort of giving provides benefits to communities that take the place of the need for public spending. Gallup says it’s also a sign that people have a high sense of well-being.

The Fairpark: Live long enough and you’ll begin to see news stories repeat themselves. On Nov. 3, 1988, this newspaper published a story I wrote about a legislative auditor’s report that said the Utah state fairgrounds needed $7 million for repairs and renovations. One of the buildings had been condemned. Politicians were wondering whether the new Jazz arena (today’s EnergySolutions Arena) ought to be built there.

This week it was déjà vu all over again, as a news story discussed a new study of the dilapidated fairgrounds and how lawmakers are pondering the site’s future.

Only one thing has changed in all that time — state fairs have lost some of their luster. A lot of states are struggling with ways to make them relevant to an increasingly urban population. If Utah doesn’t invest a lot of money to fix up the old grounds, it will have to decide where to put the fair and what it should become. Those are hard questions to answer.

Smart cars: Every new technology comes with unintended consequences. Have Utah’s political leaders considered what will happen when computer-driven cars make traffic violations obsolete? How will they replace the revenue that now comes from all those tickets?

Jay Evensen is the senior editorial columnist at the Deseret News. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his web site, jayevensen.com.

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