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When the Utah Legislature considered a message bill a few years ago that basically opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, demonstrated his opinion of the bill by wearing a monkey tail in the Senate the day of the vote.

The Eagle Forum was not pleased.

Another year, Urquhart further alienated the moral crusaders at the Capitol by sponsoring a bill that would make it easier for teachers to discuss contraceptives in sex education classes.

The Eagle Forum was apoplectic.

This year, Urquhart did the equivalent of tying firecrackers to the toes of the Eagle Forum soldiers by sponsoring an anti-discrimination bill that protected gays and lesbians against housing and employment discrimination, and, for the first time, shepherded that bill through a Senate committee with a favorable recommendation.

The bill died in the end, but Urquhart and other conservative Republicans in the Senate vowed to bring it back another day.

Urquhart is representative of a group of senators who fought back against paranoid legislators railing against the highly acclaimed International Baccalaureate program in schools because they see it as a United Nations socialist plot.

And when the morals crusaders at the Sutherland Institute waxed indignant at the Sundance Film Festival for the R-rated content of many of its movies, Urquhart compared SutherIand to the Westboro Baptist Church, that wacko group that goes to funerals of fallen soldiers to howl about homosexuality.

Urquhart, a low-tax, small government, pro-business fiscal conservative, represents a gust of fresh air wafting from the Republican side of the aisle because he exposes the silly conspiracy theories embraced by extremist elements of the Legislature for what they are.

And the good news is that he is not alone.

It's no secret that Republicans will continue to win most elections in Utah for the foreseeable future and will continue to hold super-majorities in the Utah House and Senate.

The battle is between the true conservatives, in the traditional Republican sense of the word, and the alarmists who see a socialist-environmentalist-union-backed-gay-and-lesbian plot under every bush on the Capitol grounds.

Urquhart can get away with his straying from the right-wing reservation because he has cemented his conservative credentials in stridently Republican Washington County, so he gets a pass when straying from the ultra-right-wing reservation.

And when he does, it provides cover for other Republicans who have felt uncomfortable with some of the crazy-talk heard in the hallowed halls of the Capitol in past years.

And he is working with a leadership team in the Senate that seems more focused on sound conservative legisltion than sending messages to the rest of the country that Utah is the looniest state in the nation.

Gone are ultra-homophobic Sen. Chris Buttars and prohibitionist Senate President Michael Waddoups.

They have been replaced by Sen. Aaron Osmond, who has reached out to all the stakeholders in the education debate, including the much-pilloried Utah Education Association, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser.

Neiderhauser, some believe, sent a strong message when he took over the gavel by replacing strident conspiracy theorist Margaret Dayton with the more reasonable and inclusionary John Valentine as chair of the powerful Senate Rules Committee.

The result has been far fewer, if any, complaints about bills being held in Rules for punitive reasons.

Now, lets hope the momentum toward sanity continues. —

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