Republicans not piling on to Democrats over the Miller scandal

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.” Proverbs 24:17


After 32 days of near silence, the Democratic Caucus of the Utah House called for Rep. Justin Miller to resign.

About time (says Maryann Martindale). And stop dragging my party through the mud, says Senator Jim Dabakis.

Utah House Democratic Caucus calls for Rep. Justin Miller to resign on June 15, 2015. Courtesy FOX 13 and Ben Winslow.
Utah House Democratic Caucus calls for Rep. Justin Miller to resign on June 15, 2015. Courtesy FOX 13 and Ben Winslow.

And yet, there’s been nary a bit of mud thrown by official Republican folk, whether elected officials or party leaders. With the exception of Senator Todd Weiler’s quite justifiable call for Miller’s resignation and a very brief statement from House Chief of Staff Greg Hartley (informing the press that Hughes had a conversation with Miller in which Hughes told him that Miller’s priorities should be family and, as a Member of the House of Representatives, protecting the integrity of the institution), there’s been barely a bit of dirt thrown by anyone officially Republican.

It’s not that there isn’t precedent for a full court press on Miller, either. There are those who believe that the House should have followed the same procedure for Miller that they did with Swallow. Convene a committee, examine the evidence, etc, etc…impeachment or resignation.

But why would a party in the supermajority need to kick Democrats while they are down? Why would a legislator in Davis or Cache care about what a legislator in Salt Lake does or says?

It matters because when the Legislature doesn’t censure a member who has acted in violation of the law–and theft of $30,000 carries a penalty that could put Miller in jail for more time than either Swallow or Shurtleff–it impacts the credibility of the whole body, Senate and House.  It erodes trust in government and elected officials.

If one elected official is getting away with theft, why might others not? If government can steal with impunity (the IRS notwithstanding), why should voters believe that their elected representative is any betters?

If you don’t think the whole body is impacted by the actions of individual members, look no further than the approval ratings of the US Congress which is full of members reelected year in and year out, but as a collective body have approval ratings in the teens. There is an aggregate effect on all members when one or a few act to embarrass the body, and the negative echoes are far louder than the positive.

Yet, Republicans have not piled on to Democrats for the Miller scandal. It’s not like Republicans, especially in the House, don’t have a reason to resent Miller in particular or Democrats in general. It took all of three seconds after now former Utah Attorney General John Swallow was accused by the Salt Lake Tribune of admitting malfeasance on recording for Democrats to levy the politics of personal destruction against Republicans.

Why might House Republicans resent Miller? A freshman legislator in the Utah House, Miller is better known for his efforts to embarrass the Republican caucus during the debate over Healthy Utah than for anything else.

When Healthy Utah failed in committee, Miller made a motion to take up the bill on the House floor anyway, putting House legislators on the record voting against Healthy Utah. 11275520_10206255212037785_644506587_oNot willing to quit despite running over House procedure and knowing that there wasn’t the will to pass the bill in the House, Miller thumbed his nose to Republican colleagues and used a substituting procedure to try to get a vote on Healthy Utah.

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Die it did, and flurry of photos of the House vote board sped across social media, each an implicit threat to Republican House members that their votes against Healthy Utah could come back in the form of negative mailers to swing voters at election time.

Now, while Miller is down, would be a great time for Republicans to pile on…but they haven’t, even when there’s precedent, and a good argument, for setting up a committee in the House to examine his behavior. Still, Republicans have shown little inclination to kick Democrats while they’re down.

At least not yet. Spring is nearly over, the warm months of summer are approaching, and we’re about to enter the political doldrums. Miller will step down within the week (that’s my prediction), and Democrats will submit to Governor Herbert a name to replace him (Lynn Hemingway Part Deux, anyone?). With any luck, Democrats will say, this will just be an embarrassing spot in our rear view mirror before the Fourth of July.

Hopefully, the next time Republicans have to deal with a bad apple among their ranks, Utah’s Democrats will remember that Republicans pulled their punches when a member of the Utah Democratic House Caucus admitted on tape to taking $30,000. Sure, Democrats stand to gain a lot more than Republicans by going after the whole party for one bad actor, but virtue dictates that the sins of the few not be attributed to the many.


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