The 1991 Utah Legislature has three working days to go and one thing is clear: This has been one of the most emotional sessions many legislators can remember.
First, House members had to deal with the very personal problem of former Rep. Dionne Halverson, D-Ogden. Halverson was called before an ethics committee to answer for her no-contest plea for shoplifting in December.Not only did House members feel bad for a colleague, they had to go through the ordeal twice - first in a close vote that fell just short of expelling her, then revisiting the issue a week later when a petition started circulating to reconsider that vote.
When it became clear that there was more than the two-thirds needed to expel her, Halverson resigned in an emotional speech that at times slammed representatives for their actions and warned them that others could suffer her same fate.
At the same time as the Halverson hearings, House and Senate members were also tussling with the abortion bill.
While many say they received little pressure from constituents on the abortion measure, they did a lot of personal soul searching. Should Utah be up front in the anti-abortion fight? Should the state, already strapped for funds, pay upwards of $1 million to defend the new law in the federal courts? What role should the state play in such a personal, difficult decision?
When the national media hit town the final day of the abortion debate, a new tension was in the air as many legislators wondered how Utah would be painted nationally.
Running through all those pressures was the question of legislative campaign and ethics reform - an issue that hits close to home for many legislators because they feel their personal integrity is being questioned.
As more and more news stories ran on the measures - especially stories and columns written by me - apprehension built.
Republican and Democratic leaders - some of whom supported the measures - were uneasy and unhappy with the reporting. They believe - and I basically agree - that there are no significant ethical problems in the Legislature; that the 104 lawmakers are good, honest people who serve at personal sacrifice; and that ethical problems of Congress or other state legislatures aren't occurring in Utah.
In short, the leaders believed, considering Utah's good record, that they were getting a raw deal in the press. They were so concerned about my reporting that they contacted Deseret News Publisher Jim Mortimer to complain.
I stand by all the stories and columns that I wrote. But I also understand the leaders' concerns. They are proud of the Legislature and what it accomplishes. They don't like being criticized, especially when they think it's unfairly done. Those who are actually supporting the reform legislation especially don't like to be lumped with those who oppose it.
The Legislature is an interesting place, in part because of the confidences that are so easily made and broken. I can't tell you how many times a legislator has come up to me, complained about stories that question ethical practices and then told me about a fellow legislator who is involved in "something I'd never do and shouldn't be allowed."
The session winds to a close with some major issues still unresolved - the reform measures await action in the Senate; the problematic AMAX property tax question is still hanging; and - like every session's end - final touches still must be made on next year's budget.
Former House Speaker Nolan Karras ended almost every session he and I were involved in by telling me, quite sincerely, that he was crazy to run for the Legislature and wouldn't be back again. Even though frustrated and angry at session's end, he always returned, however, until business obligations forced him into retirement.
Hard feelings and strained nerves usually accompany the tension-packed 45-day session. The 1991 session is different only in that the hard feelings and strained nerves arrived so much earlier than before.
After a month off, legislators, lobbyists and the press will be back at it again come April, involved in legislative interim committee meetings as the process starts all over again.