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In our opinion: Utah lawmakers’ urge to censure Romney is misplaced

The 2020 Utah Legislature begins at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 27.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The irony is hard to miss. A state Legislature that just passed a tax reform bill so broadly rebuked by the public that it was forced to repeal the law to avoid a referendum is now toying with the idea of punishing Sen. Mitt Romney for a decision that is unpopular with many Utah Republican voters.

Where are the resolutions condemning those who voted to raise the food tax or to put a sales tax on gasoline? Where are the bills allowing Utahns to recall their state lawmakers?

Perhaps lawmakers are able to see that, in the day-to-day struggle of governance, and in exercising the awesome trust a representative has to study issues and make decisions on behalf of voters who lack the time to do either, a vote will occasionally ignite public ire.

Perhaps, when it comes to their own decisions, they understand that best-faith efforts should not be punished. Voters will have the ultimate say in the next election.

Why, then, are some of them unable to grant the same to a senator who has voted with President Donald Trump 80% of the time, but whose conscience led him to cast the lone Republican vote to convict the president on an article of impeachment?

Two items are being considered on Utah’s Capitol Hill. One, a bill filed last week by Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, that would allow Utahns to recall a sitting U.S. senator, has been called unconstitutional by Senate leaders. The other is a proposed resolution to censure Romney for his vote.

The sponsor of the censure, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, also is a co-sponsor of the recall bill, which he told the Deseret News would be “a nice threat to have on the table.”

A threat of what? To punish any senator who dares to vote his conscience rather than conform to the strict demands of a political party? Haven’t we had enough bullying in politics? Doesn’t democracy flourish best when its leaders are free to exercise the integrity of their convictions?

As we said in an editorial Thursday, dissent does not mean division. Disagreements, honestly expressed and argued, strengthen democracy and lead to more honest representation. It is not a Republican nor Democrat issue. Other senators certainly felt their conscience propelling them to vote for acquittal. All honest decisions demand, at the very least, a sense of mutual respect.

Meanwhile, political litmus tests and punishments for the exercise of conscience smack of the tactics of repressive governments, not something found in the land of the free.

Romney, who had the courage not only to cast the lone Republican vote for conviction but to fly to Utah on Thursday to meet with state lawmakers, including Lyman, has made it clear that his decision did not come lightly. He understands the political fallout.

Utah’s senior senator, Mike Lee, came to a different conclusion and has a reputation of voting on principle. Voters can disagree with both senators, and they can express that displeasure (or support) at the ballot box.

We can’t say this any more clearly: Censure from the Legislature to punish well-considered votes — from whichever politician makes them — is misplaced.