I’ve been reporting on Utah politicians for 40 years now, and while the more cynical among us may say that politicians lie all the time, I’ve found Utah’s crop of officeholders – or wannabe officeholders – actually, on the whole, a pretty honest bunch.
Accordingly, it was with surprise and sadness that I must report that last Thursday a leader in the Utah House decided to tell me a lie.
I speak of former House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, who over the last two years has been a member of appointed leadership as the House vice-chair of budget after losing the speaker’s race to House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott twice contacted me Thursday, the final day of the 45-day general session, to say he had heard credible rumors that Dee was giving up his House District 11 seat and running for the Weber County Commission this year.
I ran into Dee in the north hallway, just outside of the House Chambers, and asked about this.
Here is a paraphrase of that conversation:
Bob the Reporter: I hear you may run for the Weber County Commission this year?
Dee the politician: I spent $4,000 gathering signatures (to run for his House seat again). Why would I do that if I wasn’t running again?
Bob the Reporter: I don’t know. Are you running for the commission?
Dee the Politician: No. A lot of people have asked me. No.
Bob the Reporter: So, to be clear, you’re running for your House seat again?
Dee the Politician: Yes. I’ve been asked time and again to run for the commission. I’m not running.
Bob the Reporter: Thanks.
And I walk away.
The very next day, Dee files to run for the Weber County Commission – the first day of the candidate filing window.
But wait, there’s more.
As reported by Standard-Examiner reporter Kathy McKitrick, County Commissioner Matt Bell, a Republican like Dee, has filed for Dee’s District 11.
In the McKitrick story, both Dee and Bell deny there was any collusion over their decisions – that both made independent decisions to run for the other man’s office.
Dee is a long-time county manager – being head of the Weber County human resources department and now head of county administrative services.
Bell, in effect, is his boss.
No doubt both men have a good, close working relationship. Maybe they aren’t friends, but they certainly are friendly.
And out of the blue, they both decide, on their own, to run for the other man’s political office?
Dee told McKitrick that he couldn’t talk about leaving the House before the end of the session because he wanted to stay “effective,” and somehow announcing your retirement in session or before harms your effectiveness.
But many lawmakers announced they were not running again before the session even started, a few more during the session.
Apparently they weren’t so concerned about being a “lame duck,” and losing the respect or votes on bills of their colleagues.
When Schott first told me that Dee was giving up his House seat and running for Weber County Commission, I saw the sense in that.
Dee was the House majority leader two years ago and said he was running for speaker as the late-Speaker Becky Lockhart had announced her House retirement.
Hughes was the House whip, the leadership spot below Dee. Hughes decided to run for speaker. One would think that Dee – the man one step below speaker – would have the advantage.
But Hughes worked his butt off, and he got support from less-senior House Republicans, and in the final caucus, election trounced Dee. Beat him badly.
Clearly, Dee was not going to be speaker of the House anytime soon.
Hughes tried to make it up to Dee by appointing him a member of leadership – the House budget vice-chair.
But Dee was clearly hurt by the speakership loss – as leadership races can be some of the more cruel personal contests. Lingering hard feelings are commonplace.
Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, the former majority assistant whip, also lost a leadership race two years ago, and he’s running for the state Senate this year – leaving the House, as is Dee.
Now, in journalism it is acceptable – certainly acceptable to me – to answer a question that you don’t want to answer by just saying: “No comment.”
Some reporters are frustrated by this, but not me.
And some politicians may think that a “no comment” answer is somehow affirming what the reporter asked.
“Did you hit your wife?”
Maybe that makes it sound like you did beat your wife, but are afraid to say so.
But a lie is always worse. You say you didn’t hit your wife until the elevator video shows that you knocked her out with a straight left.
If a reporter asks you directly if you are going to run for the Weber County Commission, you say “no comment” if you don’t want to say “yes.”
Or you say something like I’m thinking about it.
Or, a lot of folks are asking me to run, but I haven’t made up my mind.
Or, you know, I’ve spent $4,000 on signatures in my current office, but I’m kind of rethinking what I want to do over the next few years. I don’t know yet.
But what you DON’T do is tell a reporter – or anyone – a lie.
Why don’t you do that?
Because you, as an officeholder, are supposed to be holding a public trust.
You tell the truth. You don’t dissemble.
Oh, sure. If your wife asks you if her new pants make her bottom look big, you say: “No, dear, you look great,” now matter if her butt is the size of Delaware.
But telling a white lie to a loved one is a different animal than being an officeholder and telling a direct lie to a reporter.
And when you don’t want to answer a direct question – well – that is all right. That’s fine.
Talk around it. Say, “Maybe.”
Or say, “Bernick, I think you’re a jerk, and I’m not going to answer you.”
(Dee did not return a phone call and text message asking for comment on this story.)
It’s like he’s saying it’s OK to tell a falsehood to a media reporter, turn around and wink at your delegate or voter and say, “But I would never lie to you. I just don’t tell the truth to the media, who’s trying to make me look bad anyway.”
Dee is now going to ask Weber County GOP delegates, and perhaps Republican primary voters, for their trust. For their votes.
If Dee gets opposing party challengers, he will be asking general election voters to pick him over the other guy(s).
Gee. I wonder if voters should trust Dee?
At the very least, Dee is not starting out his Weber County Commission race on a high note.