Maybe it's the result of being told by tax protesters that all they do is throw taxpayers' money around. Or maybe they're just becoming more politically savvy.
Whatever the reason, Republicans in the Utah House are becoming decidedly more image-conscious. Representatives in the majority party have hired a full-time public relations adviser to make sure voters see their best side."The last two years, we have recognized that we don't do a very good job of letting the public know what we're doing," said House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy.
Moody and the other new leaders selected by GOP representatives before the session started made the decision to make what had been a low profile, part-time position for the past two sessions into a full-time job.
Ed Snow, a former spokesman for Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and veteran of other posts in Washington, D.C., was hired for the 60-day duration of the 1989 session at a salary of $6,000 with money solicited from House members.
Much of his time has been spent making sure the folks back home in communities located outside the Wasatch Front know what their representatives are doing.
The weekly newspapers and radio stations in the state's outlying areas depend on wire services for general coverage of the Legislature, seldom having the resources to keep up with the specific actions of local representatives.
Snow writes what he calls "generic" press releases complete with quotes on such issues as the push for tougher drug laws. Lawmakers can then plug their own names into the press releases and attribute the statements to themselves.
He said it's fairly routine for public relations people to write what they think the subject of a press release should say instead of quoting the subject directly as the news media do.
"If they want to give me a quote, I can change it. I have no pride of authorship," Snow said. However, he said he is limited in how much a press release can be tailored for each of the 47 Republican members of the House.
The response to the public-relations effort so far has generally been good. Rep. Walt Bain, R-Farmington, got a banner headline in a local weekly about an attempt by area lawmakers to improve U.S. 89.
"Ed did a fine job on that," Bain said, crediting Snow with setting up the press conference that led to the newspaper headline. "He showed me how it's done."
And Rep. Mel Brown, R-Midvale, said he contributed toward Snow's salary even though he doesn't use the generic press releases because his constituents have access to the Salt Lake news media.
Brown and House Majority Whip David Adams, R-Monticello, said good exposure in the news media for any Republican representative is a boost for every member of the party.
"I think everyone has benefited," Adams said. "He represents the Republican caucus and anything that helps the Republican caucus helps Republicans as individuals."
But not all House Republicans are pleased with the job Snow is doing. Several are concerned that the tone his press releases take comes on too strong.
"I ran one in the local weekly without changing anything and got in a lot of trouble," said one legislator from a rural area. "It was just too aggressive."
Since that experience, the representative has rewritten all press releases drafted by Snow before sending them home. The public can tell, he said, when someone else writes what he is supposed to have said.
House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, agrees. "I think the public will see through it," Dmitrich said. "It's better for a legislator to communicate with constituents rather than a hired gun."
Republican House leaders are leaning toward making the public relations position a part of future sessions. Snow, however, said the job could easily be turned into a 12-month position.
"I think there's a lot of work to do, the question is whether there's enough money to fund it year-round," Snow said, suggesting he could help with re-election campaigns and interim meetings.
Moody said legislators in other states do have full-time public relations personnel, but that is at least a decade away for Utah's Republican representatives.