Some unsolicited advice to Ralph Becker

Ralph Becker's folks evidently liked the story in this morning's D-News reminding us that many of Utah's part-time legislators have conflicts of interest on bills that they sponsor. What a shocker! (Well, actually it was; we would have guessed the percentage of conflict bills at much higher than 25 percent.) Anyway, back to Becker, whose campaign website quickly linked to the article. That was understandable, because it depicted Becker as a guy interested in ethical government. That's always good. Ironically, though, when I got to this part I had to laugh:

    House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, says he has considered several ways to make conflicts of interest more "open and transparent" in the Utah Legislature. But each time he has made proposals, he has met with resistance from colleagues and abandoned his efforts.
The funny part wasn't so much the comment as the imagined reaction to it by VoU2 if she happened to read it. Just two days earlier, when asked her perception of Ralph Becker, VoU2 offered this take:

    "I think he’s been in the legislature too long. He’s been browbeaten. He doesn’t know how to run anything because he's used to rolling over."
Don't get us wrong--we both think that Ralph Becker would probably be a pretty good mayor. He's one of our top three choices. He's intelligent, a capable businessman, and a Democrat. (Yes, we know, potholes aren’t Democratic or Republican, but until there is more balance in this state, party is a tiebreaker.) He just doesn't rev our engines.

What’s our problem with Ralph Becker? Mush. Becker supporters, hold your fire. These are honest perceptions formed by a couple of disinterested observers; wouldn’t you rather know what people are thinking? What might tip the scales for undecideds like us? We’re not saying that Becker isn’t smart; we know that he is. We’re not saying that he isn’t ethical; we know that he is. To us, he just comes across as, well, mushy.

Willing to admit that I might be wrong, I sat down with a respected veteran of city politics a while back and ran through the list of candidates. Except for one candidate, they all have their pros and cons and would be acceptable, he opined. When it came to Becker, the burning question had to be asked:

    "Is he a wimp?"

    "A bit," he nodded. "But he would not be a bad mayor."
Good to hear. So, can Becker get elected? He was at 9 percent in last month's early poll, but top candidate Jenny Wilson only had 20, so it's a wide open field. Speaking of Wilson, to an outsider she seems to have the personality trait what we're talking about: Oomph. It. Pizzazz. When Wilson upset incumbent Steve Harmsen in 2004, it wasn't just about (sur)name recognition, good organization, and perfect timing. She had attitude. Who could forget the time that she drove behind Nancy Workman's dignified vehicle in a little car with a sign that said, "Already saving the County money"? Brilliant.

Salt Lake is used to a mayor who, for good or bad, grabs the bull by the horns. Love him or hate him, no one can accuse Rocky Anderson of being wishy washy. Granted, more than once we’ve wished that Rocky would do things differently, less eye poking and more hand shaking. But we want to feel confident that the mayor could jab someone in the eye if he needed to. Could Becker? We don't know. Could Wilson? Oh, yeah. In spite of, or perhaps because of, her background in child advocacy, Wilson is outspoken and gutsy – not inappropriately, and not all the time, thank goodness. Just as we don’t want to be led by the Lord of Milquetoast, we don’t want Mayorzilla stomping around, either. We’re not asking Becker to flip the bird to Greg Curtis or chain himself to the City Center Trax station to protest the Skybridge. We just want to believe that he could come out swinging if an occasion called for it.

Becker is – and he’ll be the first to tell you this – a diplomat, a consensus builder, a collaborator, a compromiser, a guy who plays well with others. We get it already. GOP legislators won't hate you like they hate Rocky. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Compromise is a good thing. All true. We like a guy who seeks compromises, as long as he will put someone over his knee when needed, say, in the unlikely event that the state legislature did something irrational and/or retaliatory and/or mean-spirited. A guy who writes poetry is wonderful, if he can also punch out the mugger in the alley. If you want to win over waverers like us -- and if you don't, fair enough -- amidst all the "consensus-building" and "collaboration" and "quiet diplomacy," how about sprinkling an occasional "I feel strongly about this . . . ."


The Trib & Shurtleff's big chills; Siegfried & [Back Soon]; Mero's nerve; and the China 14

A break in the work action means a chance to catch up on that all-important ranting...

Lawyers gagged (or just wishful thinking)?  Last week, the Utah Supreme Court held that statements to the media are not entitled to what is known as "judicial proceedings immunity."  In most instances, people can't be sued for things said in open court or in a court filing.  However, as the Supreme Court noted, speaking to the media doesn't serve the same function as speaking to a court.  The Tribune
laments this ruling as essentially a "gag order" that will deprive the public of important information.  Nah.  Most lawyers already knew or suspected that statements to the press were not immunized.  Lawyers are professional wordsmiths; they are supposed to know how to get a point across in a way that is not technically defamatory.  They can advise their clients of the ground rules, or funnel inquiries through themselves.  We predict little, if any, change in the availability of information on lawsuits.  After all, such statements are usually in the client’s interest, not to mention free publicity for the lawyer...

Meanwhile, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff expressed similar fears in federal court yesterday, arguing
unsuccessfully that having to testify about things he said in 2003 regarding Parker Jensen and his parents might have a chilling effect on politicians making public statements.  So what's the downside?  Okay, but seriously, if a public official knows of what he speaks – a big if, perhaps – then what's the worry?  Besides, does anyone really think that Mark Shurtleff -- he of "Save the Dog!" and "Iraqi Rocky" fame, and author of today's Tribune tweak -- is going to become a wallflower? We don't think so.

Speaking of non-wallflowers, Mitch Jensen of Siegfried & Jensen, whose face appears on TV screens approximately every 3 minutes, has been placed on probation in his law practice for 6 months by the Utah State Bar.  But on the upside, S & J's ads are less traumatic these days--no speeding cars crashing into each other lately.

Mero's jaw dropper.  A few days ago, Utah Amicus
pointed out the use of the "worst of all possible analogies" by Paul Mero of the Sutherland Institute in a pro-voucher column.  Not having seen the Tribune column to which UA referred, we thought perhaps it was an off the cuff remark, an ill-advised choice of words for which Mero might be given some slack.  In response to UA's comments, Mero provided a link to his entire essay "for any of your colleagues interested in thinking."  What the heck, we'll try anything once.

Warning:  Mero's essay is not for the weak of stomach. It is not an off the cuff remark, not a slip of the tongue.  It is 6 pages of Mero arguing that there are legal, familial, socioeconomic, and "disquieting" parallels between slavery -- slavery -- and not receiving public funds for sending your kids to private school. (Mero's essay downplays the fact that parents are legally free not to send their children to public school already; what we are really talking about is getting public money for doing so.)  At the beginning of each section, Mero reiterates that slavery was, like, really bad, but then argues at length that it is still analogous to not getting voucher money.  We like a good debate, and we have even been known to change our minds once in a while, but this analogy is just nauseating.  In Mero's last reminder that slavery was really not a good thing at all, he writes, "As a personal experience, there are no sane comparisons."  Just sane "parallels."

Update on the China 14:  Today we
learnedthe shocking news that the upcoming boondoggle to China by 14 legislators (and two staff members, apparently) is going to cost a lot more taxpayer money than they originally claimed.  What's more surprising, though, is that after three months the China 14 still can't come up with a straight-faced justification for this junket.  The typical explanation goes something like this: "Well, er, uh..."--except for House Majority Leader David Clark, who shows some chutzpah by arguing that, not only is the trip important for, uh, lots of reasons and stuff, but it's essential!  They would be derelict not to go!  Good grief–why are you dilly dallying then?  Utah's economy is hanging by a thread!

Now we are really ticked at ex-teacher Carol Spackman Moss, who decided that the whole thing was a bunch of hooey and that she could not in good conscience go.  "If I couldn't justify it to myself or my friends, then it wasn't worth it," Moss said in the Tribune article.  Not everything is about you and your conscience, Rep. Moss.  If Utah's economy goes straight to the toilet, we'll be pointing a finger at you and that empty seat on the China Fun Bus.  P.S. Could you introduce some of your friends to Sen. Dmitrich?


Mitt & Jim & Guantanamo

Don't you hate it when that crazy little thing called work gets in the way of the important stuff, like blogging? No time to encapsulate the thoughts buzzing around one's head into actual sentences, so one has to rely on visual aids . . .

As a reader of local newspapers, of course, the most persistent buzz is the Mittster, the big hunter who fears only dirty diapers, the guy accused by John McCain of changing his position in "even numbered years."

One thing that Mitt can claim consistency on, however, is Guantanamo, a subject dear to the heart of our own Jim Matheson.

"Heck, yes, I'm concerned about Guantanamo," Romney said recently. "Concerned that it's too small! It may be decades before all the people in there die! How are we going to fit all the new ones in?"

"What kind of wuss would vote for such a wimpy internment camp?" Romney said.

Matheson--served! It's on! Stay tuned for . . . the Wrath of Jim . . .


Utahns sticking up for poor celebrity lawbreakers

Sitting here in a hotel room, working really hard, not watching the Jazz game at all, the thought suddenly came to mind that Baron Davis shouldn't even be in tonight's game, but the NBA doesn't care that he threw an intentional elbow at Derek Fisher's face.  They let it go because of who he is, the gutless greedy wonders.

But hey, it's not the first time that someone has received special treatment because of who he or she is.  Ex-Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy "Scarface" Workman, for example, was allowed to smile in her mug shot, when plain ordinary arrestees are not. There's just something about celebrities, it seems.  Consider:

Last week on CNN's Nancy Grace program, local attorney Greg Skordas argued that poor Paris Hilton shouldn't go to the slammer for 45 days just because she violated probation a couple of times.  Lighten up, Judge!  From the transcript:

    GRACE: Out to Greg Skordas, a very astute trial lawyer out of Salt Lake City. In a DUI, when you violate twice, it is not unusual to go to jail, so all this business about unfair treatment is complete BS.

    GREG SKORDAS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I disagree with that, Nancy. When you have a first offense -- and this was actually reduced from a DUI down to an alcohol-related reckless driving. It was a no contest plea. She was placed on probation, a typical sentence for someone who violates. And this was a -- not necessarily a technical violation, but she drove her car while she shouldn`t have been. It`s not like...

    GRACE: Twice.

    SKORDAS: ... she got another DUI or hurt someone...

    GRACE: Twice.

    SKORDAS: ... would have been 48 hours in jail.

    GRACE: Twice.

    SKORDAS: ... some additional probation, an additional fine or take a class or something like that...
Yeah, make her take a class or something!  That'll show her!  We're sure that's what would happen to us ordinary probation violators...

Meanwhile, another Utah attorney is also pushing an "it's just the law--who cares?" argument lately.  Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, the state's chief prosecutor, has taken it upon himself to help out Duane Chapman, TV's "Dog the Bounty Hunter."  Chapman, a bounty hunter who tracks down scumbags who skip bail, has . . . skipped bail.  But wait--there's a difference, Shurtleff says:  Chapman was in Mexico and violated Mexican law, not American law.  That doesn't count, apparently, which should come as some relief to Mexican citizens who break American law while in America.

True, Shurtleff might seem to be setting bad precedent with his effort, but this case is especially important to Utahns.  After all, Dog is from Utah--oh, he's not?  Well, he has tracked down several dangerous Utah criminals--he hasn't?  Um, well, people in Utah have watched him on televison, anyway--more than enough to invoke the Celebrity Exemption.



Kudos from a BlackBerry user to Rocky and KSL Radio

Two thank-yous tonight from a BlackBerry user, one to Mayor Rocky Anderson, and one to KSL Radio.

Thank you, Mayor Anderson, for last month's order banning city employees from using cell phones while driving on city business.  The publicity from that, along with the horrible death-by-cell-phone of Lauren Mulkey last month, guilted us into cutting back our cell phone usage in the car.  Well, one of us, anyway; the other rarely used a cell to begin with.

Until now, I have been one of those who believed I was such a wonderful driver that I could cruise down the road wholly unaffected by the conversation in my ear; it was those other people who should hang up and drive.  I must admit, though, that I have missed exits and driven past parking lot entrances while immersed in phone calls.  Like it or not, that means I was not paying complete attention.  So, it is now Week 2 of BlackBerry cold turkey -- well, lukewarm turkey.  Week 2 of not checking and replying to e-mails while sailing down I-15 -- yes, I admit doing that -- and of restricting outgoing phone calls to secretary and family.  I still answer incoming calls, but I try to keep them short.  And I still check e-mail at stoplights.  I don't know if the CrackBerry habit can be broken entirely, but until then it's one day at a time.

Meanwhile, thank you, KSL Radio, for helping me keep this pledge.  Driving home tonight, I switched over to The Nightside Project, thinking that I might call in if the topic was interesting.  (It wasn't.  "Can single guys and single gals be just friends?"--I'll never get those brain cells back.)  Shortly after I tuned in, a recorded message went out inviting listeners to call KSL-TALK.  No phone number followed.  That made it easy not to call, because the letters on a BlackBerry, unlike other phones, do not match the phone dial.  On my BlackBerry, KSL-TALK is 6?6-2?'6.  On a full-QWERTY BlackBerry, it's '4"-(*"'.  Not that I would call in from my cell phone, but don't forsake BlackBerry users, KSL -- give us the actual phone number, too.


Self-checkout epiphany

If there's one thing more enjoyable than working late on a Sunday, it's remembering that you're supposed to stop at the grocery store on the way home.  Oh, well.  Get in, get the hell out.  Doesn't Albertson's say that?

Grab, grab, grab, check out.  Machine or human?  Cut out the middleman, as they say.

"Please scan your first item."

Beep!  One bag of catfood down, two inessentials to go.  See?  Who needs people?

"Unidentified item in bagging area.  Please remove."

Unidentified item?  Oh, the catfood.  It wants everything put into a plastic bag, apparently.  But even if I wanted to waste a plastic bag on a single item, this wouldn't fit anyway.  Guess I'll set it on the ground.

"Item removed from bagging area.  Please return."

But you said--oh, whatever.

"Unidentified item in bagging area.  Please remove."

But--fine.  Maybe if I put it on this--

"Item removed from bagging area.  Please return."

Okay, how about--

"Unidentified item in bagging area.  Please remove."

"Item removed from bagging area.  Please return."

"You piece of junk."  (Transcript not verbatim.)  Embarking on quest for self-checkout attendant, spying her in conversation with group of attentive males unlikely to end any time soon.  Sigh.  Sometimes the human element is really overrated.

Wrongly judged attendant immediately terminates chat with co-workers.  "You breathed on the machine," she guesses.

"Apparently.  It keeps saying--"

"Are your eyes two different colors?"

Um . . . "Partially."  Pointing at possessed checkout station, "This thing keeps saying--"

Stepping around attendant station to peer into objects of interest, "That's beautiful."

"That's nice of you to say.  A co-worker once asked if I'd been in an accident."  What have you been smoking?

"Oh, no way."  Squinting.  "It's like blue wasn't good enough and brown wasn't good enough.  Your parents must have both had dominant genes."

"That may be."  I have no clue.  "This thing keeps saying I have to remove the bag, but when I remove it, it accuses me of removing it."

Waving it off, "Oh, I cleared that already."


"You don't have to look these up.  You can just type in the code here."

"Oh--thanks.  That'll save me a lot of time in the future."

Smiles happily at having been helpful.  "Have a great night!"

Later, curious, typing "dominant gene" and "eye color" into search engine . . . sometimes the human element is really underrated.


James Evans still GOP Chair -- thank goodness!

On paper, it might seem like a bad thing:  James Evans has been re-elected chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, and is making it his life's ambition to oust the louse -- hey, there's your campaign slogan! -- in the Mayor's office, that wild man Peter Corroon.  But let's diagram that sentence for a moment.

James Evans.  The guy who cinched the election for the new Democratic sheriff in town by circulating a training video and claiming it was how Jim Winder really talked?  The guy who lost the auditor's office to a Democrat?  The guy who almost lost the District Attorney's office?  The guy who helped boost Peter Corroon's popularity through personal attacks and accused Rocky Anderson, of all people, of racism?  Basically, the guy who helped Democrats have their best year in a long time at the local level?  We like his instincts!

Even more important, he's a blogger's dream.  Just when you're wishing that some local politician would do something silly, there he is!  Please let us know the next time you're up for re-election, James.  We want a yard sign.