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Civility is missing ingredient

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Vigorous debate is part of the American political process — at all levels.

Unfortunately, personal attacks are intruding on that process, which is a detriment to both politicians and those they serve.

Former Sen. Jake Garn, while delivering an address at the Governor's Conference on Planning and Excellence in 1997, noted that there was a lot less civility in Congress at that time than when he first joined in 1975. "There is a nastiness that didn't exist (then)," he lamented.

That apparently is the case with Utah's Legislature, as well. A story in last Sunday's Deseret News detailed a series of recent rancorous exchanges. Harsh rhetoric has replaced reason and debate. Lawmakers too often act as if they're in the schoolyard rather than at the Capitol.

Patrice Arent, a Democratic House member from Cottonwood Heights, has the proper perspective: "We have to remember that the Capitol doesn't belong to (legislators). It's the public's house, and we are guests to them and should treat them with respect. Legislators are here to listen to the public, not argue with them."

Instead of questioning the messengers, some lawmakers are attacking them, as with reported incidents regarding presentations made to the education budget committee.

The unwarranted attacks have reached the point where the issue of legislative deportment has been raised at Gov. Mike Leavitt's staff meetings. While staff has not been instructed to walk away from abusive treatment, it is an option.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Laing should not have to be concerned about the way his staff is treated by lawmakers. But he has been put in that position by lawmakers who make some of his staff the target of vitriolic harangues as opposed to reasoned inquiries.

He told the Deseret News he doesn't want to see his staff denigrated, berated or attacked. To minimize the damage to his personnel, he plans to discuss his concerns with legislative leaders.

It's disappointing that lawmakers should have to be asked to be civil. That should be standard procedure — like being quiet in a library.

Those who exchange vitriol for reasoned debate do a disservice to the Legislature, those they are confronting, themselves and their constituents.