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As with the bitter anti-voucher referendum battle of 2007, an all-out war has begun to rage over an ethics-reform initiative aimed at reining in legislative conduct.
The central committee of the state Republican Party overwhelmingly approved a resolution last weekend opposing the proposed ballot measure, GOP leaders announced Monday.
Sponsored by the group Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG), the initiative needs 95,000 signatures of registered voters to land on the 2010 ballot.
After presentations and debate on both sides of the issue Saturday, a voice vote signaled only one dissenter among the 103 committee members present, said state GOP Party Chairman Dave Hansen. The committee has 180 members.
Weber County Republican Arnold Gaunt cast the lone no-vote. Gaunt has crossed swords with the party over ethics reform in the past, including once sponsoring a failed bylaw change aimed at requiring party leaders to fully disclose conflicts of interest.
Gaunt could not be reached for comment Monday.
The party's nonbinding resolution is aimed at sinking UEG's petition drive, Hansen said. "The state party strongly supports ethics reforms at all levels," Hansen said, "but did not feel this initiative achieves those goals."
Todd Weiler, a central committee member and former state Republican vice chairman, spoke adamantly against the citizen-led legislation Saturday.
Weiler, an attorney, worried about the measure allowing any three people to file a complaint. Under current rules, only lawmakers have that power.
He also voiced concerns about how the five members of an independent ethics commission would be selected and the power this unelected panel could wield over sitting legislators.
Most of all, Weiler feels the bill aims to fix a problem that no longer exists since lawmakers are now enacting their own reforms. He pointed to a handful of measures passed during the past legislative session as proof of their efforts on this front. "We're not at nirvana right now," Weiler said. "But this initiative seems to be trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer."
Initiative backer David Irvine -- an attorney and former Republican legislator -- disputed his party's claims as nonfactual, exaggerated and completely misleading.
Irvine also defends UEG's 21-page bill as sound and carefully drafted to withstand a constitutional challenge. In an e-mail Monday, GOP Chairman Hansen said "the initiative is flawed and usurps the constitutional power given to Utah's voters."
"What these guys never admit," Irvine countered, "is that if the initiative passes, it passes by a majority vote of the voters in Utah -- so for them to keep bellyaching about unelected sponsors is silly."
Utahns for Ethical Government will hold a 4 p.m. news conference today in the state Capitol Rotunda to demonstrate support for the initiative among former lawmakers, including former Gov. Olene Walker, who served multiple terms in the Utah House.
» To read the GOP resolution please visit sltrib.com