Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, says he's proving that being a member of the majority party in Congress makes a difference.
After only two months in office, the Democrat from Utah's 3rd Congressional District has drafted an amendment to a bill with significant impact on the state - the Central Utah Project bill. Orton spoke Saturday night at a fund-raising dinner for the Utah County Democratic Party, attended by about 120 party supporters.His amendment provides for water to be piped from the Jordanelle Dam to Heber Valley to replace 5,000-acre feet of water being diverted from Daniels Creek to Strawberry Reservoir to create fish spawning ground. It also provides money to develop a water distribution system, which will conserve that precious resource.
"Being able to represent people of Wasatch County, explaining what needed to be done, having a listening ear and, perhaps most importantly, being a member of the majority party . . . is what helped to solve the problems for Wasatch County," Orton said.
Orton's amendment also requires feasibility studies of a proposed wildlife reserve on the southern part of Utah Lake and a provision that if a reserve is created farmers can be compensated for lost crops or sell their property to the CUP mitigation committee.
And, it requires that mitigation committee to receive and implement reasonable suggestions from local leaders and citizens on how mitigation money should be spent developing the Provo River corridor.
"That is what I am trying to do in representing you in Washington, D.C.," Orton said. "First of all, listening to you, finding out what the problems are, listening to you about what solutions we should be placing in service and then acting to ensure that you continue to maintain a voice in government," Orton said.
Orton plans to follow that formula in addressing designation of wilderness lands in Utah. He'll be holding public hearings on the issue in coming months and meeting with local political leaders on that issue.
Another issue before Congress is a proposal to increase grazing fees as much as 1,000 percent, which would be "devastating" to people in the 3rd district, Orton said. He pointed out that while grazing is subsidized by federal funds, so are many other activities that aid the private sector: recreation, weather forecasting, aviation navigation systems, etc.
Orton castigated attempts to turn the vote on war with Iraq into a political issue. President Bush himself urged congressmen to vote their conscience, saying war was not a party issue, Orton said.
"Those people who know are trying to wrap themselves in the flag, who are trying to take upon themselves the glory of the troops and the heroism of the troops that we sent over there, and trying to make it their own partisan victory are doing themselves, their political party and this country a great disfavor," Orton said.
Such actions could result in the next presidential request for Congress to address a critical issue on its merits rather than on party lines being snubbed.
Orton voted to go to war, a decision he called "agonizing." The question was not whether the U.S. could "whip" Iraq - it has an economy the size of Kentucky, Orton pointed out - but what the aftermath of war would be.
He said the Middle East is still a "very, very volatile situation."
"We still have a dictator, who in fact is murdering people in his own country right now as we speak," Orton said. "We still have tension between Israel and all of her Arab neighbors. We still have problems in Iran and Afghanistan."