I disagree with Sen. Jim Dabakis’ recent My View ("Pay-to-play system is corrupting state government"). I spend a lot of time at the Legislature’s sessions and, in my opinion, most legislators in Utah are respectful and responsible public servants. I have to say, based on my experience, that legislators take their positions seriously and go out of their way to listen to Utah citizens.
I am a retired engineer and a citizen of Utah. I have been able to discuss issues with many of the legislators, even though I am not their constituent. I don’t give a lot of money to the legislators, maybe just a couple in the last few years, although I do contribute regularly to many Republican candidates’ campaigns in Salt Lake County. I don’t look at it as a pay-for-play issue but more as an effort to ensure a competitive race.
What Dabakis may find really upsetting is that the legislators have been listening to me and sponsoring bills and language in bills that I have asked for. Although the discussions show many differences of opinion, we always have been able to find common ground. In many instances, the discussions have led to bills and laws that I was interested in finding a sponsor for. One senator mentioned, years ago, that even though I was not his constituent, he considered himself a public servant of Utah and he felt that no matter who the idea came from, it should be considered. In many instances, other legislators have acted in the same respectful way.
I am not saying I always support the bills that are being heard at the Legislature. In fact, I have fought against many bills by sponsors I consider to be great legislators. Those legislators have also listened to my suggestions for bills and agreed to sponsor bills.
Dabakis seems to believe the only way to get access to legislators is with money. My experience is exactly the opposite. Anyone is able to talk to our legislators. Our citizen legislators provide their addresses, phone numbers and emails online at le.utah.gov (under the Senate and House members page). In other words, legislators do not put themselves on a pedestal. They make themselves available. If Dabakis was right, legislators would not provide their addresses and phone numbers.
If your representative or senator does not know you, you are more likely to get answers to emails if you put “constituent” in the subject line. In one case, a legislator refused all emails because he was getting over 300 emails a day. If you are not a constituent and you want to want to talk to a legislator about a bill, I would recommend that you show up at the bill’s hearing and make your case for or against the bill. Many times, almost no one but lobbyists give testimony, but anyone can testify.
I also disagree with Dabakis about the Facebook situation. I supported the potential Facebook data center proposal since I know the potential benefits. I believe water issues were a red herring. Facebook was going to invest billions in Utah in equipment and buildings. The financial benefits would have been significantly higher with the development than if the land stays the same as it is now for the next 10 years (which is likely). We have a difference of opinion. It is no proof that there is pay-for-play operating in Utah.
Finally, I have to thank all the legislators who are willing to listen to me and other regular citizens. Dabakis does not seem to be one of those and he is my senator! I still can’t figure out how to get him to talk to me. Maybe this My View will do it.
George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City.