Gov. Gary Herbert has sold his political soul, and sold out his constituents, by signing a dreadful bill that will eviscerate the state's prime open government law.
His feeble excuse, that a veto would have quickly been overridden but his signature bought some breathing space in which to improve the vile HB477, plays the public for fools and exposes the governor as a political hack concerned only about his own electoral skin.
Herbert's signature was the only bit of leverage he had in the debate, and he has traded it away for nothing. A firm veto could well have been the necessary speed bump that would have forced the Legislature to stop and think about what it was doing. One Republican senator, Chris Buttars, of West Jordan, had already taken a principled stand against the rush to judgment and voted against the bill. Given just a little more time, more senators might have heard the public outcry, reconsidered and sustained the veto.
Instead, our weak-kneed governor signed the bill, and all he got for his capitulation was a delay in the bill's effective date, from immediately to July 1. But that only plays into the hands of the bill's backers. Even if the promised special legislative session is held, lawmakers now have little incentive to change a line of the measure. Instead, they have every reason to believe that public ire will cool as they run out the clock.
Herbert clearly fears becoming the Bob Bennett of 2012, sharing the fate of the longtime senator who was ousted by a small group of true believers in last year's Republican Party convention. The governor sees no percentage for himself in standing up for the interests of the public, only in cowering before his party's extreme right wing.
The huge flaw in that thinking is that, other than the 82 members of the Legislature who voted for HB477, there is no significant support for a measure that would handicap Utahns on the right just as much as those on the left.
The leaders of the Utah Legislature, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Michael Waddoups, clearly want HB477. If they choose, legislators can now use the secret tools of text messages and other electronic forms of communication to make unholy deals with special interests and rule over us with as little public participation as possible.
If Herbert is to really use this delay to rewrite HB477 into something that respects the people's right to know, it appears that the people will have to stiffen his spine.
Herbert's telephone numbers are 801-538-1000 and 800-705-2464. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let him know what you think. While you still can.