Budding relationships in one arena sometimes require adjustments in another. Such should be the case for Utah House Majority Leader Christine Fox, chairwoman of the Electrical Deregulation and Customer Choice Task Force.
Fox, a respected legislator, has done nothing wrong. But the appearance of conflict has people nervous. An attorney, she and attorney/lobbyist Fred Finlinson are both employed by the law firm Callister, Nebeker and McCullough. Finlinson represents large industrial interests such as Nucor Steel and Geneva Steel in lobbying the task force, which is working on electrical deregulation measures for the 1998 Legislature.On the eve of electrical deregulation, which will take several years, the task force is charged with balancing the interests of heavy industrial customers with residential and small-business consumers.
The fact of the two attorneys - one the chairwoman of the task force and the other a lobbyist with much at stake - being from the same firm has made some people uncomfortable. But that discomfort has risen since the two, both widowed, reportedly have a blossoming romantic relationship.
Conflicts of interest are inherent in a citizen legislature, but they should be avoided whenever possible. And some conflicts are a bit more obvious than others. This is one of those.
Colleagues and others are careful not to criticize either Fox or Finlinson about the delicate matter. Yet while expressing support for the positive developments in their personal lives, many are uneasy with the inherent conflict of interest politically.
Both are well-liked and respected, and there is no reason for anyone to impugn the integrity of either. But to eliminate discomfort and concern for all parties, Fox ought to relinquish the task-force chair, or Finlinson should walk away from this particular lobbying interest.
Doing so would reassure everyone that electrical deregulation is strictly a matter of the head and not the heart.