By now you’ve heard that the Sutherland Institute board has asked Paul Mero to step down as president after 14 years with the conservative think-tank, citing disagreements over direction.
Knowing there will be a lot of tap dancing from the left, understandably. Paul is an easy (and eager?) focal point for criticism from the left. But I wanted to tell the story of how I first came to know Paul Mero, and why I am proud to call him a friend.
In 2007, KVNU’s For the People hosts/founders Tom Grover and Ryan Yonk hosted and moderated a public debate over school vouchers with Paul and then Democratic Party vice-chair Rob Miller as panelists. It was a fire filled, passionate debate, with Miller and Mero going toe to toe aggressively throughout the two-hour event. After the event, I approached both panelists to ask a few questions, and was surprised to learn Miller and Mero had driven to the event together, and were in fact good friends who enjoyed the occasional lunch.
Paul and Rob were both regular fixtures of the For the People show, a relationship that continued after Tyler Riggs and I replaced Tom and Ryan as hosts. In the years since, I’ve had a chance to enjoy many disagreements, and — believe it or not — agreements in conversations with Paul about Utah politics and policy.
In 2009, I watched as Paul pushed an immigration reform call to lawmakers (which others would later absorb into what became known as the Utah Compact) that was not only against the grain of what we were hearing most in conservative circles in Utah, but also was quite reasonable and compassionate policy. Many lawmakers ignored or outright panned the policy publication Paul presented at the time, but in the end, what Sutherland published, as a result of extensive research, was just two years early. Later, lawmakers would pass an immigration bill that reflected — nearly exactly — that Sutherland publication.
In the years I have known Paul, I have watched as he directed Sutherland through some of the best and, in my opinion, worst policy positions going. We rarely agreed. But I have also observed and experienced personally his willingness to never, ever shy away from a public debate or discussion. In fact, I can think of few political organizations in Utah that have done as much, consistently, to foster debate over issues. And I believe Paul’s personal conviction to embracing the conversation — as well as his infuriating personal conviction he is always right — has built that reputation for the Institute.
Paul has angered Utah’s conservative lawmakers almost as often as he’s set off gay rights activists. He’s been vilified by Tea Partiers as often as by progressives. And while he’d pretend otherwise, he’s loved every minute of it. Not because he’s wanted the spotlight, but because he believed in his positions and, more importantly, believed the conversation itself was of value no matter who “won.” And every one of Sen. Henderson’s transparency bills I’ve had the privilege to be involved with, Paul was always the first to call and offer support from Sutherland. He once even invited me as his +1 to the Cache GOP’s Lincoln Dinner just to stir the pot (I told everyone it was a date).
Did I say we disagree? That doesn’t even begin to explain. I have called him names. We’ve shouted at each other on KVNU’s airwaves too many times to count. He is wrong, wrong, wrong about so many things and he would never, ever, ever admit it and sometimes I wanted to drive to the Sutherland office and clog the toilets with paper towels.
Politics is a war of ideas, or should be, with the best ideas eventually rising to the top. I didn’t like many of Paul’s ideas, and he liked few of mine. But we both agreed that the best way to propel or beat an idea was to give it an open mic. He had a job to do at Sutherland that didn’t always allow for equal time for all sides. But when it did, Paul used the opportunity to bring all sides to whatever mic he had to offer.
So I’m proud to call Paul Mero a friend, and I hope he stays involved in Utah’s political conversations so I can yell at him some more.
And I enjoy knowing he’ll get a lengthy email or two from this post… that time this SOCIALISTLIBERALSTATISTCOMMIE said nice things about him. What a RINO.