In the past, I’ve written about Utah’s lack of conservativeness when it came to school board races and cellphone use. Certainly, cellphone use must be isolated cases. But, if we were to look at something like…let’s say…abortion…Utah would certainly rank in the “conservative” side of the political spectrum, or, at least in the right half of Republican States.
Well, not so fast…
If ever there was a measure of “conservatism”—at least social conservatism—abortion would have to rank really high…if not the highest, right?! With Utah’s unique melding of the State’s predominate religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and politics, one would assume that Mormons’ supposedly conservative social values would be corroborated with pro-life laws…after all…aren’t we supposed to stand for something?!
Surprisingly, Americans United for Life (a pro-life organization that is often cited for its rankings) ranked Utah in 2014 as having the 29th most protective “life laws.” Measures included not only reasonable restrictions on abortions, but also freedom of conscience laws, and other pro-life considerations.
Although U.S. Census Bureau shows Utah (2012) as having the 7th lowest abortion rate per 1,000 women–behind Wyoming, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Dakota, Idaho, and Montana—the low abortion rate probably has more to do with the predominant religion which initiates “disciplinary councils” (church courts) for those obtaining, performing, and paying for abortions, and not for Utah’s moderate restrictions on abortion.
To the surprise of many, Utah ranks in the middle-left of Republican States for protections for the unborn and for freedom of conscience laws, and, squarely in the middle of the nation as a whole.
Well, with Utah’s social conservatism bubble partially deflated, at least Utah can rests on its fiscally conservative laurels, right?!
Well, wait a minute…
STATE EMPLOYMENT TO POPULATION
Conservatives usually believe in smaller government which should translate to fewer state employees–if this belief is truly honored. As strange as it sounds, the Republican Party once actually followed this principle, and candidates even ran on the concept. But currently, a national battle ensues between the conservative base (Reagan Republicans) and big government Republicans (commonly known as establishment or progressive Republicans). Unfortunately, the same battle seems to be happening in Utah.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah has the 11th highest number of State Employees per capita in the nation for both full-time and part-time employees.
Utah currently ranks in the far left for Republican States, and, left of center for States as a whole.
Well, certainly something must be wrong! Maybe there is. However, maybe just not in the way we think. Utah would certainly support the free-market system over centralized planning, right?! Support small businesses over big business. And, would never support business subsidies or giveaways…at least not at a greater rate than the national average—would it?
Umm…since too much cognitive dissonance is not good for the mind in one sitting…let’s wait to take the issue of business subsidies up in the morning.
But, just one final query before I set my pen down (since it’s a fair question to ask), “Why does it even matter if the media and establishment Republicans ‘fib’ about Utah’s conservatism – or lack of it?”
IT MATTERS GREATLY if one believes that conservative principles make a difference, and, if one would like conservative legislation considered and adopted.
Case and point…
A number of years ago, a colleague of mine was trying to get an abortion bill passed. Nothing radically extreme such as getting rid of the exceptions for rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy – just something that would put Utah more in the mainstream of Republican States, or, lead the way on something that has now become more mainstream (Republican anyway). But, because of misperceptions (i.e. a radically rightwing legislature, hates women, etc.), a religious organization’s representatives expressed concern about what the bill would do to Utah’s “reputation” and opposition soon mounted. Eventually, the most important part of the legislation failed because of a false perception – Utah’s abortion laws were ALREADY extreme. (I can cite numerous examples of false and mistaken perceptions killing bills—many that would surprise genuine conservatives.)
Just look at a few of the issues already mentioned, and, many others I will write about later. Countless (conservative) measures that would benefit the state are simply rejected because legislators don’t want to be perceived as “rightwing”—despite the fact that on many issues, they aren’t even close.
– CHRIS HERROD