This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
This can be a very depressing time of year around here. It's cold. It's dark. The air can be really bad. There are no more holidays. And the Utah Legislature is in session.
The 45-day visitation of our illustrative legislative body began Monday with lots of self-aggrandizement and calls to service. The hope that the House and Senate, left to their own devices, will do the people's bidding seems small, as usual. A new barrage of poll results suggests that the things the people want, from privatizing the liquor business to expanding Medicaid, simply won't happen.
In theory, though, there is hope. There definitely are tools.
Yes, too much of the lawmaking process is carried out behind closed doors, where Republican super-majorities work out what the laws will and won't be without any individual office-holder held to account.
At the same time, though, much of what goes on is not only open to the public, but easily accessible online. At le.utah.gov voters can find the names, phone numbers and email addresses of their senator and representatives. Bills, in their various forms, are online and updated frequently, along with the notes that measure how much they will cost and whether they are likely to be constitutional.
Floor and committee votes are posted. Meetings of the House and Senate, and of their various committees, are livestreamed and kept in archives for access any time.
Yes, lawmakers are up to their noses in campaign cash, supplied mostly by people whose life's work is to socialize costs and privatize profits. It has ever been thus.
It was telling that Senate President Wayne Niederhauser told the Tribune the other day that it is only the press, not the people, that cares about openness at the Capitol.
"I don't hear from my constituents on this issue," Niederhauser told reporters, "I hear about it from you guys."
The sad part is that the senator's take is probably accurate. He probably doesn't hear from too many real voters about open government. Or much of anything else.
But voters cannot let the feeling that they have no voice in government become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they want a better, more representative, more responsive, less bought-and-paid-for Legislature, they have to keep up and speak out.
Voters, after all, were able to get lawmakers to take back one of their worst ideas, the 2011 attempt to gut the state's open records law, with an outpouring of public objections.
That doesn't happen nearly enough. And all the secrecy in the halls of power makes it difficult.
But part of the reason that special interests are so loud is that the rest of us are too quiet.
That can change.