All those who think you've had a worse start to the year than state Sen. D. Chris Buttars, please step forward.

I didn't think so.

But of course we overstate. There are worse things than being called a racist for saying about a bill, "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark, ugly thing" on the floor of the Utah State Senate, a bigot for accusing critics of being a "hate lynch mob," a homophobe for fighting against Salt Lake City's domestic partnership registry, and a tyrant for ruthlessly chewing out a judge in Utah County in a letter the media somehow got hold of and publicized.

But not that many.

Who knew a Republican in Utah could get in so much hot water in so little time?

I know basketball coaches who display better diplomacy.

And who taught him how to apologize? Barry Bonds?

By the close of the legislative session on Wednesday, even the noncontroversial bills Buttars was connected to were about as popular as anthrax.

It was as if the senator from West Jordan had taken it upon himself to personally provide for the rest of us an object lesson in proving the truth of British historian Lord Acton's quote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Him being the object.

I tried to reconcile the public actions and comments of the two-term senator from West Jordan with the person I met nine years ago at West Ridge Academy.

West Ridge Academy is a school for troubled teens that was started in the 1960s. Chris Buttars became executive director in 1989, a post he held for 15 years, during which time the school made significant strides in expansion.

When I met him in 1999, Buttars was excited about a new baseball field at the school, something he'd worked at tirelessly. All summer volunteers pulled weeds, raked rocks and groomed grass. By August, for the first time, the Fighting Eagles could field a baseball team and compete against other schools.

At Buttars' invitation, I attended the inaugural game, West Ridge vs. St. Joseph, complete with national anthem, ribbon-cutting, announcement of starting lineups and about 150 spectators.

Kids from all sorts of races, backgrounds and religions competed side by side that day, and Chris Buttars was so proud he beamed. No one had a discouraging word or inappropriate thing to say.

The next year, Buttars decided to run for the state Senate. He won that election, nearly doubling the total for his two opponents, and then won re-election in 2004, again getting almost twice as many votes as his Democratic challenger.

Maybe it was too easy. Maybe it went to his head. Maybe he thought he could say and do anything.

In the postgame analysis, it wasn't so much what he said, it was the condescending, arrogant way he went about saying it, and the condescending, arrogant way he went about apologizing.

Whether he runs again this fall, whether he can still pull double the vote, remains to be seen. But no one can be any happier that the 2008 legislative term is over than D. Chris Buttars.

Just in time for baseball season.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.