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Core Samples

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

Utah Governor Gary Herbert is driving me to drink. Last Friday, within hours of his signing House Bill 148, which mandates that the feds surrender control of all public lands in Utah by 2014, I was comfortably ensconced on a barstool at Pete’s Roc N Rye saloon up in Evanston, Wyoming.

I immediately attempted to open a tab in the good governor’s name to no avail. It’s not exactly a hotbed of Mormon Republicanism up in those parts. Of course, I could have dropped by a watering hole somewhat closer to home but I also felt a need to draw attention to the repercussions inherent in his signing into law Senate Bill 314 last March.

That was the divinely-inspired bit of legislation that eliminated drink specials (happy hours), banned mini-kegs, effectively reduced the number of liquor licenses available statewide, and allowed the "Gov" to appoint the chairman of the liquor commission.

It’s as if Herbert’s trying to get me to vacate Utah under some obscure "love it or leave it" statute. If that be the case, however, he’s got his work cut out for him. Not that attacking two of my favorite comfort zones saloons and Utah’s wild country isn’t a good place to start.

It’s just that a long succession of equally reactionary lawmakers hasn’t had much luck getting rid of me and my kind. We’re just far too smitten with the cultural and geological landscapes hereabouts. We concur totally with brother Brigham. This, most assuredly, is the place!

The notion that the federal government stole land that rightfully belongs to Utah is patently absurd. Any number of indigenous tribes could make a more valid claim to "ownership" of the land had they developed such a concept in the first place. And the fact that the "drill baby, drill" crowd acts as if they have staked out the moral high ground on this issue is hilarious.

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Equally ludicrous is the now year-old legislation that has further tweaked Utah’s alcoholic beverage statutes toward the prohibition end of the scale. The extreme right wing of the Utah Republican party (is that redundant?) has regained control since, back in 2009, former Governor Jon Huntsman slightly relaxed liquor laws by eliminating the private-club requirements then in place.

This past Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Utah Hospitality Association that contended the happy-hour ban and restrictions on liquor licenses violated federal antitrust law. However, while rejecting UHA’s initial complaint, the judge allowed that, if the group amended its claim within 20 days, he would revisit its arguments.

Alleging that the long-held tenet of the separation of church and state had been violated and that LDS lobbyists had overly influenced the legislative process, the UHA maintained that the methodology utilized in formulating the legislation was anything but properly inclusive.

The fact that, for the most part, the lawmakers who wrote the law had never set foot inside the establishments most effected by their legislation is bad enough. But their refusal to take any input from the industry itself, including a former director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, is to ignore the most basic tenets of democracy. The building blocks of theocracy, however, seemed to have remained undisturbed.

Not that a temple marriage exists between the Church Office Building and the State Capitol. Eternity is a long time and, sooner or later, one side or the other will no doubt be unfaithful to their backroom vows.

The land-grab bill signed by Governor Herbert on Friday, however, showcases a more secular union between big oil and the campaign-contribution industry. How cynical of me to lay it out in those terms! I should have said that it’s about jobs and education and balancing the budget. Now if you buy into that, I’d love to open a bar tab in your name the next time I’m at Pete’s.

What am I trying to say? That the state of Utah would not be a reliable steward of these lands once they’ve been handed over? That down the road, the next generation that the Republicans so worry about will have lost their wilderness legacy? That the red-rock canyons will be forever insulted by road construction, pipelines, and more coal-fired power plants?

Yeah, that pretty much captures it!

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.