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Bob Bernick Jr.: Lawmakers, like Olympic athletes, can soar, stumble

I've been spending my time like this:

Daylight, watching the 2010 Legislature. Nighttime, watching the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Any similarities?

Well, both can be contact sports. There's some trash talking going on. You can take a bad fall in either competition. Moments of glory escape most participants. There are judgment calls that baffle reason. A few people stand out among the crowd. A lot, and I mean a lot, of work goes on behind the scenes by people you never see. There is politics and big money, both personal and in large groups. And the outcome of both affects many people, in some cases with life-changing results.

The big difference, I suppose, is that you don't get any do-overs in the Olympics. Miss a gate, you are out of the race. Too high on the curve and you end upside down, dragging your face on the ice at 90 mph. A bad take-off and you can break a leg.

Mistakes at the Legislature can usually be fixed. It may take some time; maybe even years. But wrongs can be righted, if there is enough will.

Sports, on the other hand, are most often very unforgiving.

And usually, as the old saying goes, the best team wins. Over time, champions prove themselves — as U.S. skier Bode Miller is showing in western Canada. I'm not so sure the "best" is always the result in the Utah Legislature.

Yes, the majority rules. Representative government functions. But all insight doesn't rest with the majority.

While emotion can lift an athlete, it can sink a bill or push a bad piece of legislation into law. Big mouths and flawed philosophy don't count for much in the hockey rink. Not always so on Capitol Hill.

The one constant, I suppose, is money.

Bottom line, the Olympics are a large monetary risk, a marketing bonanza if operated properly.

The Legislature's main responsibility each year is setting the state budget, a huge $11.5 billion enterprise that is supposed to keep citizens safe, lock up bad guys, deliver vital social services, protect the environment, help education children and adults, let us fish and hunt and drive safely. Campaign money greases elections. Taxes fuel the engine of government.

A gold medal can, if marketed properly, set up some athletes financially for life. (I admit that a gold in the luge may not achieve this. But a cross-country gold for a Norwegian — who would be an unknown in America — creates a god at home.)

There's another similarity between elective office and the Olympics — it's an honor just to be there. Even if, in the end, you don't do very well.

In speaking on behalf of one of his ethics bills, House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, said he finds every day at the Legislature a high point of his life. He thinks his colleagues are some of the best people he's ever known. And I'm sure that the other 103 legislators sincerely feel the same.

It can be pretty heady stuff up in the Capitol.

Important people, who in private life may have more money and influence than a teacher/legislator or an insurance agent/legislator, ask for your opinion, seek your support, give money to your campaign and truly act like you matter.

Olympic athletes are cheered, feted and in some cases pampered. They are admired, sometimes even hounded by fans.

Both lawmaker and athlete can end up on TV news — hopefully for good things they've achieved. For the masses who struggle daily in obscurity, who would turn aside such limelight?

So, the sun shines and I watch legislators. Darkness, and I watch Olympic athletes.

Not a bad way to spend some winter time.

Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at