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A bit of boxing on the floor

Lawmaker and analyst strike a blow for civility

SHARE A bit of boxing on the floor

A legislator and the budgeter he berated last week pulled on boxing gloves and put up their dukes again Friday.

Only this time, the pugilism was for pretend and in the spirit of healing wounds rather than creating them.

"What we want to emphasize in sports, especially boxing, is there are rules. And we don't hit below the belt," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper and co-chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Throughout the session, we have a lot of stresses on us with the shortage of funding, so we want to remind all of us to maintain decorum." His comments came as Rep. Glenn Way, R-Spanish Fork, and Chad Harris, public education fiscal analyst for the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, came before the committee and pulled on boxing gloves, which Sen. Alicia Suazo, D-Salt Lake, provided. The men tapped gloves as if in the ring.

"Chad, throw a punch!" Rep. Marda Dillree, R-Farmington and committee co-chairwoman, called out to chuckles in the audience and committee. Harris tapped Way on the chin.

Such levity marked a turn from the two weeks leading up to the 2002 general session, in which legislators were forced to slash current budgets due to a $202 million revenue shortfall.

Harris earlier presented Gov. Mike Leavitt's budget proposal to the committee, as asked. Way called it a "load of crap" and blamed analysts for putting the Legislature in budget-cutting mode.

Harris was taken aback. Dillree publicly denounced Way's behavior.

Decorum has been a problem in other committees, and several legislators have expressed their dismay publicly and privately. Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Salt Lake, threatened to walk out of meetings if civility continued a downward slide.

Friday, Stephenson halted budget presentations to remind committee members of the importance of diplomacy. He quoted statesmen such as former President Ronald Reagan.

"We need to learn to use words that sell our point and yet are not inflammatory or derogatory," Stephenson said. "We have an obligation to give deference to the opinions of others and let them be heard and honor those differences." Added Dillree: "I think this is a good way to clear the air and sort of start fresh."

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com