Editorial: Christensen Should be Stripped of Chairmanship

Curtis Haring - Editor in Chief

Curtis Haring – Editor in Chief

For more than a decade I have closely followed the Utah State Legislature. In that time I have heard offensive comments about babies being black or comments wondering when rape is actually rape. I have heard stupid comments about how it is okay to shoot a cat if you think it is feral or that there is no problem drinking raw milk, even if it has green film on the surface. I have heard the twisting of words to push particular interests, backpedaling, doubling down, and grand naivete.

But never have I heard someone display as much disregard and disrespect for the legislative body and the legislative process as Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper) showed Friday while acting in his role as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The topic at hand was HB 234 – Adoptive and Foster Parents Amendments from Representative Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City).

The bill itself is straightforward: a reaction to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the Supreme Court last year. Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, Utah (along with many other states) has to change various aspects of state code in order to be in compliance with the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Since Utah specifically constructed laws to say that marriage is only between a “man and a woman” and that only married couples have certain rights under the law (such as the adoption laws Romero is looking to change), Utah needs to update its code in order to not be in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But Christensen, a staunch opponent of all things homosexual, had a chip on his shoulder so large that it could be seen from his district in Draper despite the winter inversion.

There was no way Christensen couldn’t have come in ready to fight. His 2004 bill, HJR 25 – Joint Resolution On Marriage, would lead to the Utah Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage – a ban that was the cause of the Kitchen v. Herbert ruling against the state – a ruling against the state that was widely seen as a watershed moment nationally for same-sex marriage. Utah, yes Utah, was performing same-sex marriages in December of 2014. Six months later same-sex marriages would be the law of the land based on the rights granted to the Supreme Court in the Constitution.

Yes, in a twist of fate so ironic that not even the best Greek playwrights could have imagined it, same-sex marriage came about in no small part because of LaVar Christensen.

But we have seen huffing and puffing before. What makes Christensen’s actions so abhorrent to make me call for Christensen to be stripped of his chairmanship?

The reason Christensen should be condemned is because there is a clear and important distinction between the offensive, stupid, or “interesting” comments made by lawmakers noted above and the comments made by Christensen as Chair of one of the most powerful committees in Utah government.

During the hearing (full audio below), Christensen badgered department heads, shouted down his fellow representatives, and gave a clear preference to members of the audience who supported his viewpoint.

This is different than the above where each of the offensive, stupid, or “interesting” comment took place within the legislative framework – a framework of fairness that holds at its core the idea and ideal of representation. Every lawmaker, no matter how stupid the comment may be, is allowed (and should be allowed) to speak and be heard. Why? Because they are speaking as the voice of the people who elected them into office. Even the most offensive comments must be allowed in our representative democracy so that conversations can be had and the marketplace of ideas become richer. This idea can also be extended to department heads. As extensions of the Executive branch and presumed experts on particular topics.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the voice of the people deserve to receive equal representation – particularly during a committee hearing. This allows lawmakers to make a well thought out decision prior to voting and allows the public an opportunity to petition their government.

In all my years of listening to committee hearings I can not recall a time when a chair didn’t ask prior to public comment who was for or against a bill so that both sides can clearly be heard. On Friday, Christensen not only failed to do this, but also stacked the comments: one for the bill, three against – in that order.

There is no excuse for this; even the most passive observer of the legislature knows where Gayle Ruzicka fell on the bill long before she stepped up to the microphone, yet she followed someone who was opposed to the bill. Furthermore, Ruzicka was followed by a third opponent who Christensen, either through incompetence or malice, did not bother to ask where the member of the public stood.

At each and every step, Christensen interfered with the legislative process and actively obstructed the voice of the people. He ruled motions out of order that were proper, he disregarded points of order, he prevented department heads from stating their facts, he showed clear bias towards his worldview, and he did it all with a venom that degrades the  integrity of the legislative process.

This is conduct unbecoming of any lawmaker, let alone the chairman of a committee, let alone the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Anyone who respects and honors the legislative process – Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative – should be appalled by Christensen’s actions. It shows a fundamental disrespect for the process, a fundamental disregard for the people, and a fundamental abuse of power.

If Christensen is unwilling to apologize for his actions and rectify the situation immediately, it is abundantly clear that he is unfit to serve in that capacity and should be removed from any form of leadership immediately.

Shame on you, LaVar Christensen.

6 comments for “Editorial: Christensen Should be Stripped of Chairmanship

  1. Ben Johnson
    February 13, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    Shouted? You are obviously a slanted journalist. I was there as well, and yes he was sharp and stern I will give you that. Shouted is hardly the right word. Just like Representative Christensen showed his obvious position so have you. This article is yellow journalism at it’s finest and it is great proof of why Utah Policy & Utah Politico Hub are seen as superior in this state. The title of this article belongs in The National Enquirer, as an unethical two faced piece of journalism.

    • February 14, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      It’s an editorial you Maroon! Doesn’t have to be fair, unbiased or even two-sided.

  2. Fred Cox
    February 14, 2016 at 2:27 am

    I was there. I had a proposed amendment/substitute for the bill. Some place to start. Rep. King had one as well.

    Rep. Christensen obviously didn’t respond well to comments from individuals the sponsor brought in to provide reasons for the bill. When you refer to some unspecified rule or law that doesn’t seem to match what we have, or you don’t seem to know the difference between case law, state law, federal law, state rules, federal rules, or agency policy, that isn’t going to win points with this chair, and it obviously hit a nerve.

    Was the chair thrilled with the bill, even with proposed amendments? Obviously not. Bias against the bill? Yes. But the fact he put it on an agenda shows that he was willing to try to get past that to a point.

    Re: those that spoke from the audience. There were only 4 hands that went up. Perhaps that was based on the time or perhaps that was all that wanted to speak. I don’t know which.

    While I would have liked to have some discussion as to the merits of the proposed amendments to the bill, and voted against the latter motion to adjourn, I was glad the chair allowed for public comment.

    I was in a different committee room the day before on a different bill (no I am not on that committee) where there were between 50 and 100 people that came to hear discussion on a bill they didn’t like. One of the largest committee rooms in the capitol was filled with no seats left empty. The bill was eventually substituted for something they liked even less and then held. No public comment or even debate on the bill was heard.

    I watched those that had come get up and walk out. They had taken time off of work to be there. No “sorry” or anything. That bill was not even sent from rules to the committee. It was put on the agenda anyway. It will be back on Tuesday, when most of those interested will be out of town at an annual convention.

    Are chairs perfect, no. Should Rep. Christensen be stripped of being a committee chair based on Friday’s fireworks, no.

  3. Karin Weight
    February 16, 2016 at 11:50 am

    It is well established that children tend to be better off with two parents rather than one. Divorce, promiscuity, and multiple short term partnerships apparently often adversely affect children. There Is, however, a dearth of studies showing the effects on children who are raised by two committed parents of the same gender.
    To assume that homosexual married people are promiscuous (as strongly implied by one of the indiviuals at the hearing) is highly offensive.

    Give all this, however, the editorial against Christenson is incorrect. Anyone who listens to the recording will find that he never shouted and that he was not inordinately rude. His bias was obvious, but that is all that should be said against him. It would be better to save such editorial comments for the really horrible diatribes against non-conformers that we hear so often from our right-wing legislators.

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