When a constituent demanded "collective" action to scrub our filthy air, Rep. Brian King decided to pen a mock response not as the Salt Lake City Democrat he is but as the prototypical conservative legislator he spends so much time battling on Capitol Hill.
"Give me clean air or give me death," the constituent wrote. "The only thing I have heard from any state or local leaders about dealing with our incredibly toxic air is to take individual responsibility, like stop idling our car. I do take individual responsibility, but it is absurd to think that is enough to stop our filthy air."
Then the writer bemoaned people who drive 80 mph on freeways while she's doing 55 mph in an attempt to reduce emissions, only to find herself terrified of being a traffic hazard as "cars nearly sideswiped me trying to pass. … What really is needed is collective action."
To which King put on a Republican hat and replied:
"Oh my heck! You say you want 'collective action?' Do you think we live in Sweden or something? Are you a socialist? Perhaps even a communist?
"My good constituent, this is UTAH. We have no need for 'collective' action or whatever other euphemism you choose to employ for enslaving our children. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! I beg you, do discontinue your entitled, freeloading mentality and return to the trudged-to-school-uphill-both-ways-in-four-feet-of-snow heritage of our pioneer ancestors. Anything less will surely accelerate the rapid degeneration of morals so prevalent in society."
Sure enough, it did sound like certain breeds of lawmakers who use bombast or piety, or both, to make their points. As King wrote to his constituent, he felt "the need to provide you with what, from what I hear daily from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, would be the Republican response to your email."
On a day like Monday, when I looked out a west window and couldn't see past Rocky Mountain Power's power plant stacks, I could understand her despair.
Why on earth, she asked, "do we not have a 55 mph speed limit on the freeways within urban areas in Utah? Why on earth do we not have an ordinance requiring trucks to drive in the right lanes with slower speed limits? Why is the toxic air increasing in Utah?"
Well, King in his GOP mode had the answer.
"I am assured by my loyal supporters at IndustrialMediaCorp, Inc., that the 'gunk' in the valleys we experience each winter has no detrimental effect on our health but actually enhances our appreciation for the beauty of our big mountains and blue skies once we get to see them again.
"In short," he wrote, "no one appreciates clean air more than the man who has been deprived of it for a spell. Be grateful, my friend!"
To the Republicans' credit, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert mentioned some ideas for reducing pollution in his State of the State address mass transit, car pools, limiting idling. He also invited Utahns to look at Utah's Clean Air Partnership (www.ucair.utah.gov) and called on industry and higher education to make energy "more accessible, more reliable, cleaner and affordable."
Last month, the Utah House's Public Utilities and Technology Committee passed a plan for a new bipartisan legislative task force that would focus on improving air quality. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Holladay, cleared the committee on a 9-1 vote.
The lone dissenter? A lawmaker who might just fit King's profile of a Utah Republican Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.
For the record, King included an actual response to his constituent, saying that he would work with "like-minded people to make some progress on this issue … especially when we are talking about something as essentially and publicly consumed as the air that we breathe, collective action is necessary."
Wait a minute. Does that make King a socialist?
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.