A third of a million Utahns voted for me last year. They represent a group seldom heard in the Legislature, in state offices, or even in many local governments. From time to time, I intend to speak up on behalf of those forgotten Utah citizens who want more balance in government.
Recently, Utah's senior United States senator, Orrin Hatch, perpetrated a sneaky maneuver that raised the ire of countless Utah citizens Republicans and Democrats alike. Congress struggled mightily to keep the nation from going over the so-called "fiscal cliff." Lawmakers worked nights and weekends to craft legislation to prevent what almost everyone agreed would be a financial disaster. The deadline approached. The final vote loomed.
At the last minute, our esteemed senator using all the chicanery he has learned over almost four decades of senatorial shrewdness inserted in that vital legislation a Christmas gift for his campaign contributors. The Hatch provision delayed price controls on a life-saving drug for kidney dialysis patients.
The senatorial "gift" could amount to as much as half a billion dollars for Amgen, a biotechnology company that donates heavily to the senator's political campaigns.
In case you're wondering, Amgen is not a struggling company. The company agreed to pay three-quarters of a billion dollars in a settlement for illegal marketing of another drug, and it pays high salaries to more than seventy congressional lobbyists.
No wonder thoughtful Utah voters question Hatch's antics!
Let's be clear: We do not question the legality of Hatch's actions. Out-of-control lobbying, unlimited contributions and last-minute Christmas tree gifts are part of the Washington scene these days. But most Utah citizens expect a little ethical self-control on the part of those we elect.
Many of us believe our senator should not focus on helping campaign contributors while overlooking needs of Utah and its people. Many of us believe that add-on provisions to benefit a few should not be tacked onto legislation that is absolutely vital to the survival of the nation. Many of us believe that good governing does not include the stealthy rewarding of friends.
Anyone who follows Utah politics knows that Hatch is beholden to the pharmaceutical industry. Apparently, a majority of Utah voters have come to accept that. But we expect a little self-restraint when it comes to doling out rewards to political friends.
In Utah, we believe good citizenship goes beyond simply living within the law. Good citizenship has other dimensions. It includes conscience, morality, and ethical conduct. Dialysis patients suffer enough without unnecessarily having to pay more for critical medications. A good conscience would protect them.
Legislation should stand (or fall) on its own. Moral conduct does not include sneaking favors through the process. Campaign contributors do not deserve special treatment. Ethical behavior rejects even the appearance of favoritism.
Orrin Hatch was re-elected to the Senate. That does not mean he is entitled to abuse our trust.
Scott Howell was the minority leader of the Utah State Senate from 1992 to 2000. He was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012.