Utah Reps. Sheryl Allen, Greg Curtis and Susan Koehn had ingested your typical feed-the-legislators-while-on-the-summer-visit meal Tuesday night and decided to stop in at the Cafe Diablo for some really good after-dinner snacks.
The cafe in this growing southern-central tourist town is renowned for appetizers and mini-desserts, and the trio hoped to find a quiet moment there.Instead, they met up with the clear reason why the Utah Legislature travels the state each summer - real people and real problems.
After ordering, the legislators engaged the waitress in conversation. She hustled back into the kitchen and returned not with the sauteed mushrooms but a hastily written note card.
Hands shaking, voice trembling, she read off her problems: What was the Legislature going to do about telemedicine in rural areas for people with seriously ill children.
"It was what we really learn on these trips," says Allen, a Bountiful Republican whose day job is raising money for and otherwise aiding the Davis County School District.
Wednesday night, the 74 House and Senate members heard more formal presentations - but no less heartfelt - by residents of Tropic and surrounding towns and farms.
Meeting in the new Bryce Valley High School, legislators fielded questions from transportation needs, hunting concerns and land use to how the residents' rural lifestyles can be maintained.
Two months ago Suzanne Winters was the state science adviser fighting Salt Lake Valley's clogged freeways each morning getting to her Capitol office.
Today she's one of the newest residents of Escalante, the new director of the still-in-the-planning-stages science center for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Ninety-seven percent of the students who will graduate from the new high school will leave this town. "They can't find work," Winters said.
Winters, with the help of the Utah congressional delegation, plans first to go to Congress for money in setting up the new monument science center. "But when we have a plan, I'll be coming and asking you for money," she promised.
Rep. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, represents the area. He said revitalizing rural Utah's economy is a tough job. "If I had the answers, I'd be filing bills to help. I agree. We've had enough talk about it. We have to do something. But we can't just throw money down here."
Rep. Blake Chard, R-Layton, said rural and small-town Utahns have to start thinking creatively. Chard talked about a man who lives in the Uinta Basin and makes ropes and lassos. One would think that would be a dying rural trade.
But the man started advertising on the Internet. "And now he is fill-ing orders not just across this country but internationally."
Garfield County Commissioner Louise Liston said her neighbors take pride in being survivors. "It is not comfortable for us to come to the Legislature with our hands out."
But when 92 percent of a county is owned by the federal and state governments, people may need some help making a living on the remaining 8 percent of land, she said.
Did legislators learn something? Yes.
They learned that a new formula distributing state gasoline taxes to cities and counties helps the big cities and the big towns. "We lost $16,000 in (local) road taxes," said Liston. "We'll never make that up."
Legislators promised to review the funding formula.
Tourist jobs, while appreciated, usually don't pay as well as the disappearing timber and mining jobs. And tourism brings with it hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of people - who in turn need emergency medical attention at times and police protection as well.
How do residents pay for these services when the people needing them are passing through, several people asked.
And what about water and sewer? Escalante Mayor Sandy Hitch-cock, herself a Salt Lake transplant of just four years, said her town recently built three new sewer "cells" to handle growing waste. Three are full, and the fourth is nearly so.
"We are expanding our water system (with the state's help) to double its size - an expansion that was last done in 1936," Hitchcock said.
While a number of residents asked pointed and critical questions about the creation of the new national monument, others - specifically the elected leaders - said they are determined to make the best out of the new monument.
One thing local residents apparently won't have to worry about anytime soon is the state deregulating the electrical power industry - which has the potential of drastically raising the power rates in rural Utah.
Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, co-chairman of the Electrical Deregulation Task Force, said while the task force will study the issue for another year and likely make some recommendations, "I don't see any significant legislation coming forth on deregulation."
The power companies, public and private, in Utah have done a good job in serving customers and keeping rates low, he added.