In a commentary recently published by the Salt Lake Tribune, Rob Debirk wrote this:
“At a recent committee hearing for Rep. Mike Noel’s House Bill 136, a bizarre thing happened. The committee chair, Rep. Keven Stratton, required all public speakers to be sworn in, warning the public that any comment found inaccurate or untruthful would result in a charge of a second-degree felony.”
This swearing in under threat of a felony, which Rep. Susan Duckworth rightly labeled an intimidation tactic, was not required of the bill’s sponsor, nor of any other legislators speaking to the bill.
It’s a double standard that exemplifies the hubris of the House Natural Resources Committee and illuminates a contempt for public input — particularly input that runs counter to the opinions of the bill’s sponsor. The bill under discussion is another example of Noel silencing those with whom he disagrees.
The original version of the bill was a gag order disguised as legislation. The bill would have stopped any city, town, county, or entity receiving state funds — such as a university — from advocating for federal protections for public lands in the state. Under the original bill, entities were forbidden from supporting federal designation until the legislature first passed a concurrent resolution in support of additional federal protections.”
A gag order disguised as legislation. A threat of felony charges for making public comments. Let that sink in.
I encourage you to read the entire article. DeBirk goes on to describe a couple more things that illuminate Noel’s positions in other entities contrived in Utah to push an agenda that has gathered some steam with regards to the state’s seemingly ominous desire to take control of federal lands. An agenda, mind you, that has until the recent administration’s also seemingly ominous rise to power been met with legitimate resistance by the courts in the land because of legal precedent and legislation outright contradicting their position that they are somehow entitled to the land to use at their disposal.
In my own interactions on this debate, I have sided unapologetically with the laws on the books but have often noted that rather than press a false narrative about what those laws are, perhaps those in favor of taking control of the lands should consider going about it through the lengthy and somewhat tenuous legislative processes that were gone through to pass the legislation in the first place.
And if that in fact is what they do, and they do so while abiding the rule of law and considering the input of the people with whom the land concerns, i.e. the American citizens, that of course while not agreeable to some would be legitimate.
In a seemingly unrelated article, the Tribune also reported on another piece of legislation: HB330. The bill seeks to limit the ability of citizens to document with accuracy what takes place between people in power, albeit church leaders or legislators.
For those who would find the outcome of such legislation palatable in the short term because it limits information about the narrative they deem appropriate, I cannot help but wonder how they do not see the eminent danger in this.
I’ve met Mike Noel and can speak firsthand to the perception that his tactics can be perceived as bully-like. He came to the radio station where I was a regular guest co-host with Kate Dalley. My understanding was that he was there demanding air time on her show to have the opportunity to respond to things being said about his policies. As I recall, Kate said she was more than happy to oblige that interview but that he would have to make an appointment to be on the show.
As I was leaving, I met Noel in the elevator lobby and we had a brief interaction where he assured me that he was a staunch advocate for public lands. I noted his previous employment with the BLM, which he now displays with open contempt and that his voting record perhaps was not consistent with the position he was presenting to me. It was by all rights a reasonable interaction between people with opposing points of view, but the physical aspect was something to marvel at.
On two occasions in that brief interaction, we shook hands. This may seem trivial, and I will acquiesce that it may be, but he gripped my hand in what could be described as an attempt to assert force and power. It was not the firm handshake and eye-contact greeting my father raised me to present as a sign of integrity. Rather, he would hold my hand and pull me towards him. It may be a simple thing, but it was indicative of something underlying the interaction.
My sense was he was not in the least interested in the open engagement of dialogue between people living in a free society but rather was addressing someone he deemed a threat to his agendas and was letting me know who really held the power there.
The real irony could only be noted in witnessing it, I think, as it was hard not to laugh at him out loud. He is anything but a foreboding presence, and his posturing of a tough-rancher guy persona came off more to me like Ned Beatty playing a scary gangster.
But all humorous banter aside, when I read that he was introducing legislation aimed at silencing opposing views under penalty of law, a “gag order guised as legislation,” I was not surprised one bit.
It seems to be something I say a lot these days, but be careful what you ask for, Utah, and moreover, careful what you allow your leaders to pass in to law, even if it temporarily lends favor to your preference for policy.
Freedom of speech is likely the most important liberty we have as a people, and surrendering it for any reason is foolishly dangerous and has a lasting demonstrative outcome.
See you out there.