This is a difficult column to write.

It deals with personal issues, like someone knowing when it is time to go.

This past week, Utah Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said a terrible thing on the floor of the Senate during a debate on school districts.

Said Buttars: "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark, ugly thing."

Reaction was swift, as some took the remark to be racist.

As the Senate took a short break, some senators were already talking about censuring Buttars. President John Valentine, R-Orem, moved quickly. He took Buttars aside and said some people took his remarks as racist.

Buttars went back on the floor and apologized. He then wrote an apology on the Senate Web site: www.senatesite.com/blog.

As reported by Deseret Morning News legislative reporter Lisa Riley Roche Thursday, the NAACP Utah Chapter then called for Buttars' resignation. And Roche's online story is followed by more than 50 comments, many calling for Buttars' political head.

Such comments like Buttars' have ended public careers before — from U.S. senators to sport commentators to talk show hosts.

If this were a one-time misstep by Buttars, it might more reasonably be forgiven. (It should not be overlooked — something like this should never be dismissed.)

But, unfortunately, this is not the first time that Buttars has embarrassed himself and his West Jordan constituents in Senate District 10.

Several years ago on a radio talk show he called the landmark school integration U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education "wrong to begin with."

He later apologized for that also, saying he was misunderstood and should have elaborated that the decision, while "great," had downside consequences, such as school busing.

He won re-election easily in 2004 and faces re-election this year should he file as a candidate by the mid-March filing deadline.

A search of Deseret Morning News archives shows that Buttars' name comes up in almost 700 news articles since he took office in 2001.

A scan of those articles shows that Buttars is often in the middle of the most "moral," controversial bills — the Amendment 3 marriage between a man and a woman in 2004 (Buttars was a co-sponsor); high school clubs (Buttars fought for several years to ban any gay and lesbian student clubs); and on and on.

In 2005 he told me: "I'm concerned about gay clubs. In my mind, if you are in the chess club, what do you talk about? Chess. If you are in the dance club, what do you talk about? Dance. If you are in a gay club, what do you talk about? I just don't believe members of sexual orientation clubs should be sanctioned by the public schools — what they are talking about — even a part of the public schools. They should not be allowed to have that on school property at all. It's just wrong."

Years ago, Sen. Warren Pugh, R-Holladay, decided to retire sooner than many thought he would. When I asked him why, Pugh, in his 70s then but still a recognized lion of the Legislature, said: "I want to go before I embarrass myself or my constituents" because of poor health and age.

In my view, Buttars should not resign his seat now, as the NAACP calls for.

His District 10 constituents deserve representation throughout the rest of the general session, which ends at midnight March 5.

Buttars, 65, has had some poor health recently, missing a week of a recent session. Who knows if this latest horrible choice of words has anything to do with age and illness.

But Buttars should think long and hard before he files for re-election in March.

In fighting for what he believes is right, there is little doubt that Buttars has also hurt any number of Utahns with his words.

Language can be a weapon that can harm the soul and heart — whether it is meant to or not.


Deseret Morning News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]