Utah AG didn’t tell Republican caucus not to pass SB100…? [Publius Online]

Capitol at night
Steve Urquhart
Senator Steve Urquhart

To listen to Senators Jim Dabakis or Steve Urquhart, at least through the lens of the Salt Lake Tribune, you would think that Assistant Attorney General Gene Schaerr, hired just for the purpose of running the Amendment 3 case, had single handedly killed SB100 by advising legislators not to pass it.

[Sen.] Jim Dabakis and Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, met with Attorney General Sean Reyes Tuesday night to voice concerns about Schaerr’s role in defeating SB100, the non-discrimination bill that Urquhart sponsored.

Legislative leaders said that Schaerr, in closed-door meetings with Republicans in the House and Senate, suggested that they not consider any bills related to LGBT issues this session out of fear that it could show “animus” that might harm the state’s defense of its gay-marriage ban.

It’s hard to point the finger any more directly at the Utah AG’s office.

On the contrary, say several legislators.  The Utah AG did not suggest that SB100 not get a hearing or be passed.

According to several legislators, all confident in their assertions on the meeting, neither Schaerr nor Utah Attorney General Reyes asked them not to pass the bill.  In fact, I’ve yet to talk to a legislator who will blame Schaerr or Reyes, but rather all have repeatedly said that the Salt Lake Tribune’s description isn’t accurate.

It makes for good controversy, though,  and provides a scapegoat outside of the legislative body.   Dabakis and Urquhart can blame the AG without offending their fellow legislators, whose votes they will need if their currently dead bill is resurrected this session.

Senator Jim Dabakis
Senator Jim Dabakis

It’s always possible that Schaerr was referring to other bills, such as a RFRA-type bill suggested by Senator Stuart Reid before the session, and not SB100.

But perhaps there’s more at play, and too conveniently Reyes and Schaer have been blamed.

Reyes is unlikely to dispute or contradict reports in the press about what was said in closed meetings of the Republican caucus. It would break the confidentiality of the meeting, offend members of the majority Republican caucus, and create a confrontation with the state’s policy making body.

And, frankly, it’s just not Reyes’ style to either push his own policy preference in the legislature, or even allow Schaerr to do so, either.

But if Reyes and Schaerr didn’t advise that the bill be stopped, who did?

A closer look might show that there are plenty of legislators in the body who are disinclined to pass SB100, which they see as a restraint on private property. But pointing the finger at them, as Dabakis and Urquhart have not done, would make passage of the law more difficult.

Sean Reyes
Sean Reyes, Utah Attorney General

It also makes it easy for presumed Democratic challenger to Sean Reyes–if not this year, then in 2016–Sim Gill to post an op-ed piece placing him on the other side of the issue from Reyes.”Reyes shut down anti-discrimination,” he says when he runs for the Utah Attorney General spot, while Gill  was out in favor of it.

Unfortunately for Gill, and contrary to what is in the press, it appears that may be less than an accurate rendition of events. When we are looking at this session two years in the rear view mirror, will that be clear? Or will it be another piece in the Democrats strategy to tear down Reyes’ reelection?

Previously posted at Publius Online.

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