A conflict has emerged about Gov. Mike Leavitt's recent appointee to Utah's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
A Senate committee will hold a rare hearing on Ted Lewis' appointment Wednesday and decide whether to forward his appointment to the Legislature, postpone a decision or reject Lewis' appointment altogether.The public hearing will take place at 8:30 a.m. in room 305 of the Utah State Capitol.
The issue seems to be less about Lewis, an attorney and well-respected former lawmaker, and more about who drinks and who doesn't, politics, business and what some see as an unfairly conservative bias on the state commission that determines rules for drinking beer, wine and liquor in Utah.
"There was some concern, and I think some of the concerns have merit," said Sen. Steve Poulton, R-Holladay, chairman of the Senate's Business, Labor and Economic Development appointment committee, which will hear the discussion.
The governor makes hundreds of appointments each year to a variety of advisory committees. Lawmakers must approve the appointments, but few are ever challenged, said Richard Strong, director of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.
Strong cannot remember when a governor's appointee was rejected.
There was one. In January 1984, the majority Republicans in the state Senate did reject the appointment of then-Gov. Scott M. Matheson's sister-in-law to the state school book commission. Marilyn Warenski had just written a book titled "Patriarchs and Politics: The Plight of the Mormon Woman." Then, as now, most of the Senate were members of the LDS Church and some GOP senators thought the book an attack on LDS men who had governed the state. Matheson was first asked if he'd withdraw the nomination. But he refused, telling the senators to vote on it. They did, voting Warenski down.
Matheson was a Democrat. Since 1978 the Senate has been overwhelmingly Republican. No appointment by GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter or Leavitt has been voted down.
Strong noted that dissatisfaction is often handled in other ways: A committee may ask to postpone a decision, and the appointee in question just "sort of disappears."
The Utah Brokers Association is concerned that the governor has not appointed someone from the restaurant or hospitality industry to the five-person alcoholic beverage control commission.
Association representatives told Poulton they received no notice a seat had opened up on the commission. "But the big complaint is that the governor will not put someone from the retail end on the commission. They want to use this as a forum to voice that concern," Poulton said.
Leavitt recently asked Lewis to step down from the state Transportation Commission and move to the alcohol commission. The Senate has to confirm the appointment.
Lewis would succeed A. Dean Jeffs on the commission. His term would run through July 1, 2001.
Leavitt has refused to address industry concerns but has reemphasized Lewis as an able policy-maker on transportation and legislative issues. "He will bring good judgment to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission," the governor said.
With Lewis succeeding Jeffs, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission will still include four attorneys and four members of the LDS Church. Ogden real estate executive Vickie McCall is the only non-Mormon and social drinker in the group.
Lewis is general counsel for Beneficial Life Insurance Co. And, in addition to serving 10 years in the Utah Legislature, he has served on the state Constitutional Revision Commission and on the Utah Tax Recodification Commission.
Lewis has said the commission's religious makeup shouldn't matter. The overriding interest should be about protecting the public, he says.