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My Experience At The Utah State Legislature: Part 6, Can We Improve Utah Government?

 Read Part One Here
Read Part Two Here
Read Part Three Here
Read Part Four Here
Read Part Five Here
There is a story about the late Congressman Bill Orton who was nick-named “No bill, Bill” for his tendency of presenting very few bills in Congress.
I think we could use more of that “No bill” approach here at the Utah State Capitol.
I learned a lot here but not about form or methods.  Being already quite familiar with the system, what I really learned was the philosophy of government of many of our representatives and what appears to be the standard for being a good representative of the people.
Don’t get me wrong; I have great respect for every member of the Legislature.
In spite of what people may say, I saw first hand the sacrifice and energy that these people put into the process.
I believe that they are all serving for honorable purposes.
But what happens if there is a dysfunctional understanding of the proper role of government to begin with? With bad information, even the most honorable member of a legislature can make serious mistakes.
I believe that the core responsibility of a disinterested (meaning self-less and others oriented) public servant is to first, do no harm; to protect and enhance if possible the rights and free exercise of the liberties of the people.
I believe that the statesmen’s job is to ensure that government operates at the most local levels first, and to minimize government whenever possible while still protecting rights.
Government has no right or responsibility to provide and nurture.  Government is force.  It should only be employed to protect.
Since government has no means of production, it can only provide by first taking. Often the process involves taking from the producers and giving to the non-producers.
There are a number of current members of the Utah House of Representatives who through the bills they presented and their engagement in debates exhibited a clear understanding of the governmental philosophy to which I adhere.
But there are many who presented bills and debated and voted in a manner that suggested they saw the role of government as providing and nurturing. I also witnessed voting that defies all logic. A Representative would vote on principle for one bill and then vote with an apparent loss of faculties on the next.  Unfortunately, those voting consistently on principle were in the minority.
One thing that really bothered me was the pervasive mentality that being a good representative means passing a lot of bills.
I personally heard members of the House say that they just really wanted to get some bills passed.  Wow, I thought the role of government was to protect rights, and since we already have a constitution in place to protect those rights, this would mean the passage of very few bills, and those that were passed would simply shore-up the liberties already guaranteed by the State and Federal Constitutions.
This concept of “we have to get something done” has got to go.  Here are my criteria for the passage of law:
1)   Does it increase or at least not decrease liberty?
2)   Does it decrease or at least not increase government?
3)   Is it constitutional?
In my opinion, no law should be passed that is out of step with these criteria. Only when the government moves away from providing and nurturing can individuals, families, churches, and communities step in and fill the void. Statesmen protect rights, defend independence and promote personal liberty.  So where are the statesmen?
I was also saddened by the lack of citizen involvement.  The definition of a republic is two-fold; representatives who act on behalf of their constituents and citizens who keep a keen eye on those actions.  As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “trust but verify.”  Outside of a few non-commercial/non-industrial lobbying groups such as Eagle Forum and a woman named Kristine who was at the Capitol representing herself (good for you), I saw virtually no citizen involvement.  The gallery was consistently empty of long-term vigilant citizens, but very busy with momentary visitors.
I want to thank Representative Brad Galvez for hosting me. His mentorship was kind, direct, and inspirational. He is one of the good guys.
In the final analysis, the old maxim “we the people get the government we deserve” rings true.  There is nothing that I saw at the Legislature that could not be resolved or improved with an infusion of citizen involvement.
Individual Legislators may disagree with this but that is only because they have grown accustomed to holding all of the responsibility and responding to our insatiable appetite for more and more oversight in the form of new laws. The best place to start is on the local level.
Here in Utah we have the Caucus system (more on this in a later post).  If we the people engage more at the local level and then consistently follow-up with our elected officials, holding them accountable as we hold ourselves responsible, I can see a huge improvement for future Utah government.

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Comments (8)

  • Brandon Myers

    I will read this in detail, it looks interesting and thanks…I can already tell I am going to learn something from it as i get more and more involved in my own government. i know I need more knowledge to shape my words and convey something that is true to my beliefs.
    I needed it, I am speaking Wed to my board here , is it ok if I quote you or use part of this? Hope so…
    We are speaking about a truth in taxation law among other things as our county is spending more than it is taking in.
    Well, thanks again keep writing and sharing.

    March 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm
    • Shanon Brooks

      Feel free to use anything you like.

      March 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm
  • Forrest Brown

    Great post and I want to share this with others. I have been out in my area talking to people and the general feeling towards our government is mistrust. Lots of complaints, but few offer solutions. How is the effort to get Utah lands back from the federal government going? I bring this up to people and few if any care. I spoke with a state lawmaker and he said even thought the Utah House and Senate passed HB148 it probably will not go any further.

    March 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm
    • Shanon Brooks

      This is a case of if we want it we will have to push it long and hard. I for one will see Utah treated as the sovereign state that it was created to be and controlling it own lands.

      March 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm
  • Susie

    Excellent analysis! Thank you. I shared this on my wall.

    March 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm
    • Shanon Brooks


      March 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm
  • Marcos Uboldi

    Thank for sharing your experiences and insight on this incredible journey that you embarked on for 45 days or so. I really appreciate the insight of someone who understands the system knows how it should run properly. I have often been puzzled by the fact that representatives think they “need to pass a bill or something.” As I have attended FOL I have learned what a representative’s role is. It is a role of stewardship and not a role of just passing laws. Sometimes it seems that they pass laws…just to pass laws!!! Anyway, I appreciate very much what you have shared with us from your experiences and please keep us informed on how things are going with Utah’s push to get control over its lands. Thank you and God bless you my brother.

    March 14, 2012 at 2:29 pm
  • Steve Smith

    Very good article, Shanon.
    We held our GOP Caucus last night. To quote an old song, “the times, they are a-changing”. At the last caucus we had 10 people in attendance. We had over 50 this time. And, I’m glad to say, we elected 2 state delegates who are like-minded with us as to the proper role of government.
    Of the 4 county delegates, 2 are people I know personally–they share our views. One of the delegates is a good man, but is presently leaning to supporting Orin Hatch’s re-election, which in my mind flies in the face of your article and the comments of others.
    I and others will seek to give him some food for thought in that regard.
    As for the precinct officers, with the exception of the Treasurer, whom I don’t know, and the Precinct Chair, who was elected during a momentary mental lapse of the entire group, we are well-represented.
    Thanks again for your article. Keep up the good work.

    March 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm

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