SALT LAKE CITY — In a week when bizarre stories seemed to cascade like a game of “can you top this,” one of the Utah Legislature’s least flamboyant members, Sen. Evan Vickers of Cedar City, sat down with reporters Friday to explain how a strange, brown-haired woman who looked to be in her 30s and otherwise was “fairly normal looking” had knocked on his hotel room door, insisting she was his date.
“I’m your date,” Vickers said she told him. “We have reservations downtown.”
He said he closed his door, then later encountered her by the elevator, where she again insisted they had a date. He retreated to his room and called a colleague, asking him to come up to the room.
This wasn’t Rob Porter, the high-level White House official with strong Utah ties (he worked for both of the state’s U.S. senators at various times), who stands accused of abusing two of his now ex-wives.
This wasn’t Utah Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, who abruptly resigned his seat last week, mumbling something about family concerns just before the Daily Mail in Britain quoted a woman who said she was paid $250 for sex with him twice at a Salt Lake hotel.
This was … well, what was this exactly?
An attempt at entrapment? A setup? A signal that it’s open season on Utah lawmakers, with perhaps some well-heeled organization out to bring down whoever might be willing? Or an innocent woman who was set up on a blind date and just got the wrong room number?
Vickers stays at the Little America Hotel, as do many out-of-town lawmakers during the annual legislative session. Was the senator suggesting the woman was knocking on random doors hoping to find a lawmaker who also was a willing date?
“She never used my name or who I was,” said Vickers, a Cedar City pharmacist. “She just said, ‘You’re my date.’
“I assume that she didn’t know who I was, per se.”
Meaning … either Utah senators now have groupies, or someone is on an elaborate fishing campaign.
It could be a way to make some money, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser mused Friday, saying he had met with all senators to “make sure they’re on high alert.” He also has asked for a police investigation.
On Monday, all Niederhauser could add was, “hopefully everybody is thinking twice about wandering off alone.”
In which case, the state’s meager Democratic delegation could be in trouble.
The Daily Mail did a follow-up story about Utah lawmakers’ “buddy system,” drawing connections between Stanard’s resignation and Vickers’ story.
Had it been an isolated thing, Vickers’ story might have sounded absurd. Coming at the end of a week like last week, it came under the category of: “Guess what else just happened?”
But put into the context of sexual improprieties going on all over this land, it sounds a lot like something legislative leaders should take seriously.
A month ago, the Chicago Tribune published a list of 14 state lawmakers nationwide who had resigned in the past year due to allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct. These range from child sex trafficking to fooling around with interns.
The paper then listed 16 others who were involved in “other actions,” meaning they had lost leadership positions or otherwise been punished after doing similar things. Another five were listed as “also of note,” including such tragic stories as the suicide of Kentucky Rep. Dan Johnson, who was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl.
Entrapment is an interesting word. It implies someone could be trapped into doing something they otherwise wouldn’t.
It reminds me of the AzScam scandal that shook the Arizona Legislature in 1991. An undercover agent posed as a lobbyist willing to hand out bags of cash and other inducements in exchange for yes votes on a casino gambling bill. Seven lawmakers were indicted.
Former Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, who was speaker of the House at that time, was asked years later by azcentral.com whether this was entrapment.
“Entrapment is a good word,” she said, “but again, people that were gullible enough to get entrapped probably deserved it.”
Those sound like good words to live by.