Utah progressives rallying to shout their displeasure at a lost legislative session gathered Wednesday evening in the Capitol basement to decry bills that would privatize federal lands, curtail anti-pollution efforts, gut sex education and more.
About 150 people gathered in a circle and chanted, "We are the majority! Represent us now!" after each in a series of speakers noted what the Legislature had done to thwart their causes this year.
"We want to make sure that those two floors [upstairs] really do hear us," said Brian Moench, a clean-air activist who helped organize the so-called "Rally to Restore Sanity."
"In so many ways," Moench said, "Utah lawmakers have gone off the deep end."
The noise not the words was audible in the rotunda above, though few lawmakers were there, leaving mostly legislative staffers to walk past the activists during the 90-minute gathering.
Attorney and former U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Pat Shea told the crowd that bills asserting Utah's right to control federal lands within the state are doomed to fail while costing millions of dollars in legal bills. He equated them to continuing, costly battles to claim dirt roads crossing federal lands.
"We're still fighting the idiocy of the 19th century," Shea said.
Earlier in the day, the Utah Senate passed two bills seeking state ownership and a legal fight to claim it of 30 million acres of federal lands, including the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. They amended the bills, though, to clarify that Utah's five national parks and numerous congressionally designated wilderness areas would remain under federal control.
HJR3, sponsored by Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, demands the transfer of the lands to the state. HB148, sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, gives Congress until the end of 2014 to transfer land to Utah and assigns the Constitutional Defense Council to recommend a system to manage the public lands.
The bills represent "a fight and discussion worth having with the federal government," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said.
Orem Republican Sen. Margaret Dayton a target of some of the rally participants' placards because of her championing of a bill they say guts environmental review boards to favor polluters said the bills address "past, present and continuing breaches" of the federal government's commitments.
Other rally speakers decried the Legislature's micromanaging of Salt Lake City's efforts to regulate vehicle idling, its withdrawal of a sex education requirement for schools, and the Gov. Gary Herbert administration's grant of Green River water rights for a planned nuclear power plant.
Women's and gay issues drew particularly impassioned pleas for action, including for an April 28 Capitol steps rally that's part of a national event called "Unite Against the War on Women."
"We are warriors," University of Utah geologist Sally Potter-McIntyre said. "We are women. We have rights and we vote."
Meanwhile, senators Wednesday night advanced a measure requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.
Gay activist and KRCL radio producer Troy Williams told of his struggle growing up gay in a Mormon family and interning at the Capitol with conservative Eagle Forum leader Gayle Ruzicka. He drew the rally's loudest applause when he said he'll be back next year, applying her lessons in the effort to pass non-discrimination laws that the Legislature has resisted.
"She taught me that you must be tenacious in your convictions," he said.
Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.