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You probably are tired of me writing about Mike Noel. I'm tiring of it myself, and know that I risk piling on the outspoken state representative from Kanab who has frequented my columns the last couple of weeks.

I've bashed him. He's bashed me. He's bashed The Tribune, in our own pages, and we had a little clash together on his home turf of K-Talk's Red Meat Radio, where hosts Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Greg Hughes were fair to both of us.

But here we go again. I've got more to say, though I see a thread of a silver lining here somewhere.

Noel, to his credit, returned my calls Thursday after I left messages telling him I had a series of questions for him that were none too friendly. He called me back from New York, where he is vacationing with his wife. They were preparing to go to a performance of "Jersey Boys" (my apologies to Sherry Noel).

I had questions about farm subsidies and Noel's apparent shift on the climate change issue, which I wrote about in Friday's column.

But I also wanted to confront him about comments he made on Red Meat last week that amounted to a personal attack on one of my colleagues, and reflected a disturbing view of what our attitudes should be toward free speech.

Noel, who wrote an op-ed for The Tribune that disputed an in-depth story by reporter Judy Fahys about Noel's role in water projects in Kane County and the extent they were federally funded, ranted about The Tribune and, in my opinion, defamed Fahys.

He said Fahys was a member of "the wine and cheese crowd" who, while telling her editors she was in Kane County working on the story, was actually in Moab with "her hot tub club."

None of that is true, of course. Fahys does not drink, nor does she hot tub. She is married to a technocrat, belongs to book clubs and does charity work.

I thought Noel's insult odd, coming as it did from a member of the Republican Utah House of Representatives who gave House Majority Leader Kevin Garn a standing ovation as Garn was preparing to resign over a scandal involving a nude hot-tubbing session with a girl who was 15 at the time.

Noel said that to mute the voice of the "liberal" Tribune, folks should boycott the companies that advertise in the newspaper. To me, you can't get more un-American than to try to stifle free speech.

And that call for the torch-and-pitchfork crowd to stamp out free speech they happen to disagree with was delivered on a radio program that consistently stands for the rights of businesses to conduct their affairs the way they see fit.

Now comes the silver lining part.

When I talked to Noel on Thursday, he had dropped the confrontational tone I had expected and apologized for his comments about The Tribune and Fahys. He assured me that he believes in free speech as much as I do, but has felt beat up by the press and had expressed his frustration over that.

Though I have been one of the leading rock throwers, it must be said that Noel returned my call, answered my questions and in every way was a gentleman.

And he was on vacation. —

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