Rolly: The system that spawned a Mike Lee
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Former Gov. Mike Leavitt, Hinckley Institute of Politics director Kirk Jowers and State Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright want to change Utah's caucus-convention system for picking party nominees for public office. There is a compelling reason for doing so. It's called Mike Lee.

Utah's freshman U.S. senator once again has demonstrated why the GOP made a horrible mistake in 2010 when the tea party was able to flood the neighborhood caucuses and choose delegates that ousted three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett in the convention. Although Bennett almost surely would have been re-elected, the voters never got a chance to decide. And we got Lee instead.

So now, Lee says he will join his fellow tea party extremists in the Senate, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, to filibuster any gun bills, including one that would require more extensive background checks on people purchasing firearms.

Lee went apoplectic when President Obama made some recess appointments that obstructionist senators were trying to block because, the senator said, the Senate was not in recess, even though it really was, but pretended it wasn't. Lee, pointing to the constitutional requirement of Senate confirmation of presidential appointments, said one person (President Obama) does not have authority to act on his own.

Yet, Lee seems to think that three people have the constitutional authority to thwart the wishes of the executive branch, the majority of the legislative branch and most of the American people, who overwhelmingly say they want background checks.

Even in Utah, a polling majority wants background checks. Lee got around that by suggesting the pollsters were liberal and the results were skewed, that he is more comfortable relying on the wishes of the Utah Legislature, whose members are elected to represent the public.

The only thing wrong with that logic, other than everything, is that the Legislature has repeatedly proven that it doesn't represent the majority of Utahns, who are conservative, but not tea-party zealous. Believe me, there is a difference. Most Utah Republicans are closer in their core beliefs to Leavitt than to Lee. The reason we have a Legislature so rabidly against any form of gun control — the federal government wants to confiscate all our weapons, you see — is because so many of its members are a product of the GOP's shameless gerrymandering of legislative districts.

When the districts are skewed to heavily favor one party, the extremists have more power because they generate the most noise, especially when delegates are chosen at sparsely attended neighborhood caucuses. That's why we have so many lawmakers claiming to be protectors of the Constitution, even when their words and actions betray their ignorance of the actual document.

You have freshman legislator Brian Greene from Utah County, who insisted his bill that would have allowed local law enforcement officers to arrest federal agents trying to enforce federal gun laws is constitutional. Never mind the Constitution's Supremacy Clause and the warning from the Legislature's staff attorneys that the law would be judged unconstitutional.

No, Greene is a lawyer, so he knows better than anyone else. But he's also a tea party guy, which ought to neuter any conceivable advantage to be derived from his chosen profession.

You have Sen. Mark Madsen, another Utah County lawyer, who advanced the batty notion that enhancing the penalty for assaulting a police officer or uniformed soldier violates the equal protection clause. Told that the Supreme Court had already upheld laws giving police broader protections, he said he took an oath to the Constitution, not the Supreme Court.

Then there is Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, who in an email exchange with Ellen Brady, urged legislators to sustain Gov. Gary Herbert's veto of a bill that would have done away with the gun safety classes required by the state's concealed-carry permit. Oda argued that because baseball bats are used as weapons, perhaps we should have classes on the proper use of baseball bats.

These are the people Lee listens to, and the majority that elected him — remember those liberal polls? — will just have to eat it.