It’s a smart political move for Utah GOP legislators to repeal the GRAMA amendments and to now push for “protections” of their own constituents’ private electronic communications with public officials.
So say several Republican political operatives UtahPolicy spoke with over the weekend.
“As far as I’m concerned, the only smart (GOP) officeholders are the Steve Urquharts out there who are saying – “Hey, we messed up, now let’s fix it,”” said one Republican who has been active in party politics for years.
The Republicans spoke to UtahPolicy asking that their names not be used because they still have to work with GOP legislators and party leaders.
Last Friday, as you know, the Utah House and Senate repealed HB477 – a GRAMA revision much-hated by Utahns.
And the main theme expressed in an open House GOP caucus and on the Senate floor debate (the House basically had no floor debate) was that while HB477 did do some good things, what citizens now have to understand that they are “naked” before the prying eyes of the media and other special interest groups unless GRAMA is changed.
“It’s smart,” said another GOP activist, “for lawmakers to now try to get across that constituents’ belief that their communications with their public officials are private may not be the case, and that unless (lawmakers act) they won’t remain private.”
While there is some argument about this – media attorneys, for example, say GRAMA already contains “protected” status for legislators’ and other public officials’ private communication with constituents – many legislators (even the Democrats, who nearly unanimously voted for repeal) worry about such constituent communications.
And more than a few GOP lawmakers, in their public comments, hint they also fear that their church-related electronic communications could also be GRAMAed.
Friday, several GOP House members – criticizing the media in their open caucus – pointed fingers at the media reporters there saying they needed to accurately and fairly report the dangers lurking for constituent e-communications with public officials – both on the state and local levels.
One thing legislators need to stop doing, say both Reps. Steve Handy, R-Layton, and LaVar Christensen, R-Sandy, is talking about themselves.
“It’s not about us,” said Handy, a member of the blue-ribbon, 25-member GRAMA working group named by legislative leadership last week.
The panel has met once and will meet at least every Wednesday on Capitol Hill for several months, trying to work out a compromise on GRAMA changes.
Christensen had an amendment prepared for the Friday special session. But he agreed not to run it after, in the first of several open House GOP caucuses, colleagues told him while they like its language, now was not the time to amend HB477, but to repeal it and start “from a clean slate.”
You can read Christensen’s amendment here.
While he told UtahPolicy that he preferred slightly different wording, he was following legislative counsel’s draft of his intent: Which is to protect private communication made to a public official, like a legislator, coming from a citizen.
“I don’t want to even use the word “legislator” in my discussions about GRAMA. It isn’t about legislators at all,” Christensen said. “It’s about protecting the people’s right to communicate with us” and not have that communication appear on the front page of a newspaper or on a TV broadcast or used in some other manner. “It’s about the right to privacy.”
Christensen said while not frequent, there are times when constituents, via an email or voicemail message or text, tell a public official – whose electronic records can be searched by GRAMA – highly private and personal information.
The person believes, and should believe, that such information will be held private, Handy, Christensen and other legislators said Friday.
“Get that message out there,” said one GOP activist. “That’s the political tact they should take,” and it’s the right personal tactic as well.
If legislators can “protect” the private e-communications of constituents’ comments, then the reverse is also true – legislators “protect” their communications to others as well. And the worry about their own communications is a major factor in what drove HB477 in the first place – lawmakers’ comments have shown over the last three weeks.
But first, this person said, legislators would be wise – like Urquhart, R-St. George, did Friday – to “just admit they made a terrible tactic mistake” when they passed HB477 late in the session and “rushed it through.”
“There’s not a person in this state who has been paying any attention to this issue – and how could they not if they’ve read one newspaper or seen one TV news broadcast over the last two weeks – that doesn’t believe the Legislature just screwed this up terribly.
“Listen, we (in Utah) are a society that believes in forgiveness and repentance.” Legislators should just say “yeah, we’re glad we repealed it; now let’s move this discussion on to what we do now.
“You have to get over this hump first – the mistake. Put this whole thing behind them. It does no good to rant and rave against the media – in fact, it does more harm than good.”
That’s because Utah citizens just don’t buy it that HB477 was a bad bill badly passed because the media told them so, he said.
“The majority of Utahns don’t believe this was the media’s fault. And that’s because it wasn’t the media’s fault” – even if some of the coverage has been less than unbiased and the editorials have just ripped the Legislature and Herbert up one side and down the other.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who has criticized the Utah press before, exploded in the Friday House caucus, really going after local news organizations and reporters.
“Look, Mike is not going to lose his seat” in the safe GOP area of southwestern Utah, said another politico.
But some other GOP lawmakers who have not offered an individual or group mea culpa over HB477 could.
“From here on out, they (GOP legislators) have to get the right message out there – that they are looking out after their constituents’ personal privacy rights.
“If they say they handled this wrong, they can get past this. But for others, I think it could be used effectively against them” in the 2012 elections.