ACLU leaders plan conference
May 3, 2006
It’s likely that Ken Woolstenhulme will not be heading to The Canyons early next week to greet a group of people from all over America attending a conference.
They are members of the American Civil Liberties Union and Woolstenhulme, a Democrat from Oakley with conservative tendencies, says he’s not a supporter of the group, widely painted as a leftist organization.
"There’s no doubt about it, I don’t," Woolstenhulme said when describing whether he supports the ACLU. "I don’t particularly care for what they stand for."
Dani Eyre, the executive director of the ACLU in Utah, said the conference is expected to draw about 500 people — staffers from the ACLU’s national offices in New York and Washington and ACLU workers from each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico.
She said that the conference is primarily meant to train ACLU workers and said the event will be "very nuts and bolts." The conference is not open to the public.
Eyre, though, is encouraged that the organization’s leaders chose Utah as a site for the conference, one of three that the ACLU holds every two years.
"There is some sense they are bringing it to partially, and I want to emphasize partially, to recognize a state affiliate that is chugging along well," Eyre said.
She said the ACLU does not expect to make major decisions during the conference.
The conference starts Sunday and ends on Tuesday.
Officials from the ACLU’s offices in New York did not immediately respond to questions regarding the conference.
Jill Sheinberg, a Parkite involved in the ACLU on the national level, helped organize the conference and said ACLU supporters in Utah have a "hard road" even though she sees the group as "very mainstream."
"I always like to have people come from outside of Utah to Utah because Utah is fairly insular, as are most places," Sheinberg said.
The ACLU lobbies for a range of issues like freedom of speech. The group has only been occasionally active in Park City and surrounding Summit County, however.
Conservatives especially try to label the ACLU as a group of liberals that represent the far left but the group’s supporters seen the ACLU as a critical protector of the rights of Americans.
Ross Romero, a Democratic legislator who represents the Snyderville Basin in the state House of Representatives, supports the ACLU but at the beginning of the week was unaware of the conference.
"I think the ACLU does a good job advocating for all citizens’ rights and looks after the protection of all," Romero said, acknowledging that the ACLU, though, takes positions contrary to the interests of other groups. "They take principled positions in looking after, protecting, the rights of all citizens."
He said Americans probably do not agree with all of the ACLU’s positions but added that it is likely that most people in the country support some issues that the ACLU advocates.
Eyre said the national-level leaders chose Utah for its setting, not its politics, which tend to be conservative.
"I think it has a lot more to do with the mountains," she said.
She also dispels beliefs that the ACLU caters to the fringes of the left, calling the group the "largest public-interest law firm."
"The most extreme thing the ACLU ever does is go to court," she said.
Woolstenhulme said the Park City area is a draw for conference planners, especially after the exposure from the 2002 Winter Olympics. But his opinion of the ACLU won’t change after the group meets locally.
"I think they go way overboard. They’re too fanatical," Woolstenhulme said.