Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, needs to think long and hard about whether he will file for re-election to the Utah Legislature.
Earlier this week, during a debate over a school-funding measure that included references to King Solomon and splitting babies, Buttars said, "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark, ugly thing."
Following the debate, Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, announced there had been a breach of decorum and the senator involved wanted to apologize. Buttars said Tuesday that he had not meant the statement to be degrading in any way. Senate leadership deserves credit for responding quickly, as does Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, who brought the issue to official attention. However, considering the repugnant nature of Buttars' comments, the Senate ought to consider further sanctions.
In a statement posted on the Senate leaders' Web site, Buttars has apologized to members of the Legislature and the people of Utah. He should also apologize to the Salt Lake branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP has called for Buttars' resignation. On Thursday, Buttars said he considered the issue done and he stands by his apology.
It would be easier to accept Buttars' mea culpa if not for his history of outrageous, sometimes hurtful, statements on issues ranging from gay-straight clubs in Utah public high schools to teaching "intelligent design" in public schools. Viewed in the most charitable light, Buttars may well have difficulty expressing his points of view. In a less charitable light, many of Buttars' public statements during his legislative service have been ugly and divisive.
Buttars needs to take a self-inventory. When a state senator makes the headlines for statements he himself says could have been construed as offensive, it is questionable how effective his representation can be.
The answer ought to be obvious.
Buttars' conduct should be contemplated during upcoming party caucuses and the state convention. Delegates need to carefully consider if Buttars is cut out for public service.
Strange things can happen in Utah politics, though. This is particularly true in political conventions, which can be commandeered by fringe interest groups. Just ask former Gov. Mike Leavitt, who enjoyed great popularity among mainstream Utahns but was jeered by right-wing Republicans at his last GOP state convention. Utah's senior Sen. Orrin Hatch was subject to the same treatment.
If Salt Lake Republican delegates support Buttars in a re-election bid, his political futures will be up to voters in Senate District 10. They need to remember that the election is not just about who represents them in the Legislature. It's about how the nation views Utah and Utahns. Surely we all deserve better.