David Rodeback's Blog

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014
I Am Unfit for the Utah Legislature

Not that this is news. I just wouldn't fit in. Lately, this becomes clearer every day.

Every so often, some kind soul or other tells me I should run for public office. I've helped other people do that in Utah, Idaho, and New York, and some of them won. So the news isn't all bad; I probably don't have some sort of reverse Midas touch, where everything I touch turns to something less shiny than gold.

The other day someone said I should run for the Utah Legislature. I smiled wryly and shook my head, as I said, "Thank you, but I'm not electable." Now I'm thinking, that kind person and his kind thought deserve an expanded answer.

If I ran, I'd have to run as a Republican. I'd have no credibility as a Democrat, with myself or anyone else, and the Utah Republican Party itself is so far right that no fringe third party appeals to me at all. So I'm just talking about Republicans here. What I say below may be unfair to some Republican legislators; it is to Steve Urquhart, I know. If it is to others, let them prove it by standing up to their peers, their leadership, and their party.

When I compare myself to most of the candidates who get elected and serve in the legislature, it becomes abundantly clear that I am unfit for the job. In general, the problem is that I believe too many wrong things and disbelieve too many, ahem, right ones. As I multiply examples below, you'll see that SB 100 and the subject of non-discrimination generally (on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity) are prominent in  my thinking right now. It's an extraordinarily discerning litmus test, where Mormon Utah Republicans are concerned. It tells us where people land on the freedom-versus-using-my-power-to-compel-universal-righteousness spectrum, which sometimes seems to be the primary axis of Utah politics.

Beyond the moral principles on which society generally agrees and finds suitable for regulation by law, I believe that sinners as I define them and sinners as you define them deserve political, economic, and religious freedom. I believe that a person's violation of someone else's sectarian principles (or his own) should not jeopardize the roof over his head or his means of earning his daily bread, assuming he doesn't work for an organization with a primary mission to promote those principles. With this in mind, look at Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser's handling of SB 100. If he's fit for his office, I am most assuredly unfit for any role in the Utah Legislature.

I'm a Mormon, and I'm no fan of socialism in any of its variations. I nevertheless believe that the greatest and most constant threat to free and healthy society and good government in Utah is the subset of Mormons who think the law is a suitable tool for imposing their principles on all people -- and who think that this is somehow a proper exercise of their religious freedom. (At least our methods are different from the Taliban's, even if our mindset on these points is similar.) Therefore, I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

I don't think all goverment is evil; I think excessive government is evil. I don't think all taxes or even all tax increases are evil; I think excessive taxation is evil. On both counts, I am unfit to run as a Republican for the Utah Legislature.

I believe that Utah's Orwellian Truth-in-Taxation law is strangling local governments, but I don't believe that is a good thing. So I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

While in general I think a Republican majority is a far better thing than a Democrat majority, I don't think one-party government with perpetual supermajorities is a healthy thing. I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

For personal, religious reasons, I abstain from alcohol, but I don't see why my religious principles should be binding on anyone else. Saying this during jury selection got me four weeks of jury duty in New York. Thinking it makes me unfit for the Utah Legislature.

As it happens, I am unfit for more than the Utah Legislature. For example, I believe that compelling businesses to be closed on Sunday is tyranny -- or government overreach, to use a term people like to use on me sometimes, when they're trying to be civil. I also believe that other Sabbaths, notably Friday and Saturday, and their adherents deserve equal treatment under the law. So I might be unfit for residency in Highland, if I lived a mile or two further north. I also believe that marriage is properly defined as the union of one man and one woman, but I think the US Supreme Court was right to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, as an unconstitutional federal intrusion into a prerogative of the states. I believe abortion to be morally wrong in most circumstances, and I believe Roe v. Wade was a flimsy, irresponsible piece of jurisprudence. But I don't necessarily believe that any law banning abortion is automatically a good thing. Worst of all, I campaigned for US Senator Orrin Hatch in the last two or three elections. For all these reasons, I am unworthy to be considered a "real conservative" in Utah, even if I am a big fan of Senator Mike Lee. 

But back to my primary list . . .

At a theological level, I believe that freedom exists to allow people to make right choices. But I don't believe we should make wrong choices illegal whenever we can get away with it. I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

We're back to SB 100 again . . .

As I wrote the other day, even if I believe and sometimes preach that one aspect of their lifestyle is morally wrong, I value my gay and transgender neighbors, relatives, and colleagues, friends, and fellow believers. "If [that] incurs the wrath of the God you worship," wrote I, "I am unmoved. The God I worship understands that the worth of a human soul . . . is far greater than the sum of its actual or human-perceived sins." This makes me completely unfit for the Utah Legislature.

I do not have the intellect or the expertise to read a clear statement from the LDS Church, endorsing a non-discrimination law in Salt Lake City, and argue that it means exactly the opposite of what it says. When I see the Church praising the ordinance for regarding "the right of people to have a roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against," and for granting "common-sense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations," I cannot draw the conclusion that the Church clearly was speaking of rights which exist only within the city limits of Salt Lake City. When I read that the LDS Church says it supports the Salt Lake City ordinance "because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage," I have not the power to conclude that what the Church really means is that it only supports the ordinance as a desperate measure to prevent something worse from happening, and that treating gays as full-fledged humans will inevitably lead to the legalization of gay marriage. Lacking these gifts for spin and self-deception, which so many others clearly have, I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

I pride myself on a degree of intellectual flexibility, among other things, but I cannot bring myself to make this argument, even privately: "My Church is true, which means I'm right, and my Church leaders are saying what they have to say, not what they really think, and relying on us to move forward despite their actual words." I am wholly unfit for the Utah Legislature.

When State Senator Stuart Reid stands up at a rally and says, "If a moral society is to be preserved, we must organize and petition all branches of government and other leaders and rulers to protect the moral well-being of the many," my skin crawls, and I want to lecture him on the proper, limited role of government, to say nothing of the privileged place of freedom in our civic morality. Obviously, I am unworthy to be his peer in the Utah Legislature.

Besides all that, I hate fund-raising, and I have to work full-time to make a living. I shall have to be content to be a gadfly and a curmudgeon.

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