Politics makes strange bedfellows, of course. But sometimes the opposite happens. Instead of enemies finding themselves on the same side, friends find each other on the opposite side of the fence, and in some very nasty fights.
Such is the case with the strange odyssey of this year's Central Utah Project funding bill in Congress, and its associated ethics violation complaint filed by the Utah Republican Party against Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.Owens is the author of a CUP bill that would change, some say drastically, the funding method for the massive, much- over-budget, water project.
Owens' bill has failed, and a stopgap measure was approved this week by a House committee. But the controversy still flares. Even though Craig Moody, state GOP chairman, wants to separate his ethics complaint against Owens from the CUP, it can't be done.
The sides are forming, and the players look a bit sheepish - they're squared off against political and personal friends, standing next to previous political foes.
On one side is Owens, whose original bill would have increased the cost of power to public power agencies - such as cities like Murray and Bountiful whose power is generated by Upper Colorado River federal dam projects, and is much cheaper than Utah Power & Light Co.'s power.
With some of that new money, Owens would set up a fund to mitigate the environmental impacts of the CUP.
With Owens stands UP&L, with its lobbyist, former GOP state lawmaker Doug Sontag, and his company's attorney, former state GOP chairman and gubernatorial candidate, Robert Wright.
On the other side stands the public power agency associations, who aren't real happy about Owens' plan which, they say, would raise their power rates from 26 percent to 100 percent. Former Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson, a close personal friend of Owens, is the attorney representing the public power associations.
There, also, stands the Republican Party's Moody, who thinks Owens should be censured by the House for his actions in writing the CUP bill.
So you have Owens facing Matheson over the CUP bill and Moody facing Sontag and Wright over Owens' ethics charges.
Here's how the mess started:
In preparing his CUP bill, Owens listened to Kenley W. Brunsdale, a former law partner and campaign manager of his. Brunsdale works for Fabian & Clendenin, a law firm hired by UP&L to represent their concerns on the CUP.
But Brunsdale also is the chairman of the Utah Roundtable of Sportsmen and Conservationists, an environmental group interested in mitigating the environmental impacts of the CUP.
Public power people think Brunsdale had too much influence in the writing of Owens' bill. They, and others, opposed the measure and it failed. Owens has called public power advocates the villains who threatened CUP funding.
Moody thinks Owens' use of Brunsdale violated two House ethics rules. He has filed a complaint with the House ethics committee. Owens denies any wrongdoing, calls Moody's action blatant partisan politics, and says he'll be exonerated.
Sontag and Wright, concerned that UP&L may be seen as attempting to improperly influence Owens, say that CUP officials asked UP&L for help in lobbying environmental concerns before Congress.
They argue the legal point that Brunsdale couldn't have done anything wrong since he was, in a strange way, working for the CUP, a government agency. Such agencies are exempt from the lobbying constraints placed on private lobbyists.
Matheson - you remember he's in all this also - doesn't want to publicly criticize his old friend Owens.
But Matheson does say Owens didn't cover all of his political bases in preparing the new CUP bill - the one that would sock it to public power agencies.
Who is hurt by all this?
Well, the CUP isn't helped. Owens, even if he is exonerated, has had his name tarnished. UP&L, stung a few years ago in a separate political boondoggle concerning campaign contributions, is put in a bad light. Public power agencies are labeled villains. And Moody is called a political opportunist.
In short. It's an election year, complete with power politics, in Utah.