Rolly: My recollection of events 20 years ago turned out to be a little flaky

This is an archived article that was published on in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Memories of events that occurred more than 20 years ago can be embellished or faded or both, and sometimes a close examination of remaining documents or recordings from the time can make the story even better than the memory.

Last week, in my column about the potential polarizing effect that Republican 3rd Congressional District nominee Jason Chaffetz could have on Congress, I mentioned his stated admiration for Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake.

Flake, too, I surmised, is known as somewhat of a polarizing force because of his vocal opposition to earmarks, which many of his colleagues, including Utahns, view as necessary.

I invoked a memory I had of Flake from when I was covering the Utah Senate in 1987 and, from that memory, said that while a graduate student at Brigham Young University he persuaded his state senator to introduce a resolution praising South Africa's racist policy of apartheid.

That concerned Flake, who sent me an e-mail stating he didn't even remember who his state senator was in the 1980s and couldn't imagine being able to persuade him to do anything. I reminded him that it was Paul Rogers and that he must have known him since he was the one who testified to the Senate on behalf of Rogers' Senate Resolution 2.

Flake then contacted Rogers, who sent me an e-mail stating he didn't remember Flake from the 1980s and that it was Joe Ferguson, a former congressional candidate who operated on the fringes of right-wing Utah politics, who asked him to introduce the resolution.

So fair enough. I believe Rogers, who now is a lobbyist and says he regrets ever sponsoring such a resolution. I concede it was not Flake who asked for the resolution.

But while Flake says he only remembers being asked to speak to the Legislature against economic sanctions, the audio tapes of the Senate floor debate on Feb. 19, 1987, show he did more than that.

After Rogers introduced the resolution, he did not speak to it or avail himself to answer questions about it. Instead, he introduced Flake, "a constituent," who would be the one to answer questions about the resolution.

The wording of the resolution, by the way, did not praise apartheid, which was how I remembered it. But it encouraged the support of the South African regime, which enforced segregation with a brutal hand, led by its president, one-time Nazi sympathizer Pieter Botha.

The resolution asked the U.S. secretary of state and Congress "to treat the nation of South Africa and all of its citizens with the dignity and consideration that we accord other nations . . ."

It did suggest the United States work with the South African government for social reform, and during the question and answer period, Flake told the senators that U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa hurt the black population more than the whites.

But Democratic Sen. Karl Swan raised concerns that the resolution's language about protecting the South African industries that refine and distribute precious metals seemed to put human rights second to access to goods.

And the resolution was clear in its intent to support the apartheid government of Botha, with Flake arguing that punitive U.S. pressure could shift power to more extremist elements in the country.

The resolution failed on an 18-8 vote, and Democratic Sen. Frances Farley couldn't resist a satirical shot at the future up-and-coming Congressman from Snowflake, Ariz.

"Could you restate your name?" she asked.

"Jeff Flake."

"Could you spell your last name?"


"Is that right!"