Here's how bad things are at the Utah Legislature.

Item 1: Politics are more important than reason. Lawmakers refused to consider a $2 million appropriation to provide dental care for the needy. They turned down another $4 million of federal support.

This legislative cruelty was based not on money. It was based not on concern (or lack thereof) for the needy. This heartless act was prompted entirely by politics. The governor put the item on a special session agenda. Some ultraconservative lawmakers don't like the governor; they resent giving him any power at all — even the power to raise issues for discussion. So they refused to consider dental care for the needy.

The governor had to beg for charitable contributions. He succeeded because Utah citizens are more compassionate than their so-called representatives.

It's the lawmakers who should be begging — holding hand-lettered cardboard signs reading: "Out-of-work legislator."

Item 2: Ideology is more important than wisdom. We hear about the Utah Legislature being a one-party legislature. In fact, there are three parties on Capitol Hill — a few token Democrats, a few sensible Republicans, and a majority of ultraconservative, reactionary, head-in-the-sand quasi-Republican ideologues. These folks think all government is bad, all taxes are evil, and anyone who does not agree with them is a satanic liberal.

Rational discussion is impossible.

Item 3: Lobbyists are more important than voters. Few Utah legislators look to constituents for campaign money or legislative guidance. They get their campaign money from lobbyists. They get their voting directions from lobbyists. And lobbyists write most of the meaningful bills considered by the Legislature.

Candidates know that most of us don't participate in the political process. Any good ideologue can produce enough votes for his or her candidate to win the primary. And it doesn't take much more effort to get a majority of go-to-the-poll voters in November. Besides, anyone who challenges the reactionary clones hasn't much chance of surviving the party convention. Utah voters rarely get a chance to select candidates who actually represent the people.

Item 4: Secret deals are more important than open debate. Legislators' names appear on bills, but there aren't half a dozen lawmakers who could write a bill, even if they had to. (I know I couldn't.) In the past, bills were prepared by staff to make sure they were practical, affordable and constitutional. Then they were debated publicly, almost word by word. Now, bills are written by outsiders. Bills go to tightly controlled legislative committees (where discussion is cursory, at best). Bills may or may not be reviewed by staff. Bills go to the full House and Senate for vote only after the outcome is predetermined. There is little or no public debate along the way.

Item 5: Absolutism is more important than leadership. Legislative openness has been replaced by legislative lockstep. When legislative bodies work well, leaders use reason and compromise to obtain consensus. Today's leaders use threats and arm-twisting to control everything from concept to discussion to final vote — in committees as well as on the floor.

Item 6: Legislative bias is more important than voter opinion. Too many of today's legislators believe their constituents — that's you and me — "can't afford" better schools, better highways and decent social services. Such destructive bias is patent nonsense. We can afford what the state needs, just as Utah citizens have always done. The job of our representatives is not to jump to unfounded conclusions but to get out among us, explain the needs and, where necessary, call for sacrifice. Forget the closed caucus huddles; meet with the people.

If Utah taxpayers believe something is important, we'll find a way to pay for it. If that were not true, we'd still have gravel roads, one-room schoolhouses, endemic poverty and contaminated water supplies. We invest in the future. We reject the idea of burying resources in backyard tin cans, whether the tin cans say "Folgers" or "Mercedes."

Utah citizens will do what it takes to keep Utah above average. We don't like being ranked among the lower tier of states, but the current Legislature is determined to keep us there through neglect, stupidity and greed.

It's time to select lawmakers who respect this great state and its people.


G. Donald Gale is president of Words, Words, Words Inc. He was formerly editorial director at KSL. He received bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Utah and an honorary degree from Southern Utah University.