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Issue in Focus:
Rule By Monarchy: How the House Speaker Manipulates Your Representative
 


This article was prepared by Accountability Utah team member, Daniel Newby.

Update on 1/26/2013: Due to special request, and because this article is as relevant today as when it was published, we have updated the website hyperlinks to the House Rules and the names of current standing committees.

Summary: This presentation has been in the formulation process for several years. The death of parental rights reform bills and the pompous passage of SB 175 S2 (property confiscation) all despite major citizen outrage has propelled its debut.  I admit personal bias against certain officials, but this work is not aimed at any one individual.  It is a case study of the dangers of centralizing power into the hands of one individual.  It is hoped that the reader will realize his solemn right to harshly scrutinize not only his leaders, but the process that stands to protect or deny just and equal representation to all citizens.

 

King George III

"The nearer any government approaches to a republic the less business there is for a king."   Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Contents:

1. Speaker Stephens Claims Innocence

2. How Could the House Speaker Control the Entire Body?

3. The Role of the Coveted Rules Committee in Controlling Legislation

4. Intimidation & Blackmail of Regular Representatives

5. The "Table" Trick & Conference Committees

6. When Power is Abused

7. The Bruised Feelings of a "Benevolent" Monarch

8. The Buck Stops with the House Speaker (Marty Stephens)

1. Speaker Stephens Claims Innocence

House Speaker Marty Stephens stated in a meeting with citizen activists on March 1, 2004 in his office:

"This is not a monarchy."

Speaker Stephens was arguing that he was powerless to keep Senate Bill 175 S2 from coming to the house floor for a vote. This sounds reasonable, does it not?

After all, the American Heritage College Dictionary (third edition), defines "monarch" as follows:

1. One who reigns over a state or territory, usually for life and by hereditary right, esp.: a. A sole and absolute ruler. b. A sovereign, such as a king or an empress, often with constitutionally limited authority. 2. One that commands of rules. 3. One that surpasses others in power or preeminence.

And, after all, every member of the House of Representatives is elected by the people and they should all have an equal voice, right?  No one person or persons should have inordinate power or influence, right?

But what if you were to learn that the Speaker of the House position is currently akin to that of a monarch?  What if the rules by which the House conducts its business grants the House Speaker enormous control over the ebb and flow of legislation?  And how would you react if you learned that Speaker Marty Stephens uses his near-absolute powers on a regular basis to destroy your freedoms and manipulate and control your representative?

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2. How Could the House Speaker Control the Entire Body?

Most people erroneously believe that House committee members are selected by the entire House of Representatives. Committee members, however, are actually accountable to the House Speaker for their positions.  Under House Rules 1-3-102. Duties of the Speaker:

"The general duties of the Speaker are to:... appoint the members of committees."

What committees does this include?  All of the standing committees that operate during the legislative session: Business and Labor; Economic Development and Workforce Services; Education; Government Operations; Health and Human Services; House Rules; Judiciary; Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice; Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment; Political Subdivisions; Public Utilities and Technology; Revenue and Taxation; and Transportation. (See House Rules 3-2-201. Standing Committees.)

Do you understand the significance of this power of appointment? The House Speaker hand-picks every member of every committee, from the chairman on down.  These committees control the flow of legislation through the entire House of Representatives.  If you dislike the actions of a particular committee, look no further than to the person who appointed every member of that committee.

These powers are not unknown to Speaker Stephens, who has publicly admitted to citizens in Weber County that he has the power to stop legislation, and who, as we shall see, deftly uses them to suit his personal political ambitions.

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3. The Role of the Coveted Rules Committee in Controlling Legislation

The Rules Committee is particularly pivotal to the House Speaker's control of the flow of legislation.  This committee prioritizes bills, holds bills, moves bills forward to committee, or moves bills on to the floor (See HR-24.01).  This committee controls the pace at which a bill can move through the House.

To become a member of this committee is to obtain a coveted position of power over the destiny of others.  But Rules Committee members are not ignorant of the fact that they are solely beholden to the Speaker for the privilege of their membership.  If they enrage the Speaker, they also know that they may lose their special dispensation and status.

If a bill is permitted to go to a standing committee, it faces the second round of Speaker-appointees, who may amend, substitute, hold, table, or return the bill to the House Rules Committee (See HR-24.12)

But the Rules Committee authority does not end there.  If the bill survives the standing committee, it is again "prioritized" by the Rules Committee for any floor action (See HR-24.02).

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4. Intimidation & Blackmail of Regular Representatives

If the Rules Committee stalls a bill, a regular Representative may attempt to pull the bill out of the Rules Committee and on to the floor.  However, unless the action is condoned as part of some manipulation by the Speaker (i.e. the Speaker publicly pretends to oppose a bill, but secretly tells Representatives to go ahead and bring it to the floor for passage), the Representative stands in jeopardy of losing all future appointments to powerful committees.

And that is not all a regular Representative stands to lose.  The Speaker is typically a principal of the Utah House Republican Elections Committee (other members of the Republican House leadership team are typically principals as well). This committee doles out thousands of dollars each election cycle.  Interestingly, the information on this committee is scant and access to it appears to be restricted. See what is available on the state site.

It is unknown at this time whether this committee is violating Utah statute 20A-11-601.

In addition, the Speaker typically carries enormous weight with the Utah Republican Party, which also doles out tens of thousands of dollars (and in kind support such as detailed voter lists) each cycle to select Republican candidates.  If a regular Republican Representative attempts to buck the system, financial and other support may be withheld from his re-election campaign.

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5. The "Table" Trick & Conference Committees

The "table" mechanism was designed to get around the few Representatives who might have the courage to buck the system.  If a committee "tables" a bill and returns it to the Rules Committee, it takes a 2/3 majority to bring the bill out of Rules and on to the floor (See HR-24.12(1)).

It is extremely difficult to obtain a 2/3 majority on any controversial bill.  And, once again, it is the House Speaker who appoints those who do the "tabling".  As a result, your Representative cannot represent you equally before the entire body of the House of Representatives. If he does not curry sufficient favor from the House Speaker and his lackeys, his bill may never see the light of day.

In disagreements between the house and senate over a particular bill, the House Speaker (and/or Senate President) is empowered to appoint a three-member Conference Committee.  This committee is supposedly tasked to attempt to resolve any differences, but often degenerates into yet another tool for the Speaker to torpedo bills.  Naturally, the bill sponsors or proponents are not required to be included, and these committees have great power and influence over the ultimate fate of the bill.  (See Joint Rules 7.02, 7.04, and 7.05)

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6. When Power is Abused

During the 2002 session, members of the violently persecuted Falun Gong faith desperately implored our state legislature to pass House Joint Resolution 6, "Resolution Urging an End to the Persecution of Falun Gong Practitioners," by former Rep. Matt Throckmorton.

In China, men, women, and children of the peaceful Falun Gong religion are imprisoned, drugged, barbarically tortured, raped, brainwashed, and murdered by the Chinese government.  Due to the very disturbing nature of the heinous crimes perpetrated against these human beings, I will not post their eyewitness accounts and pictures.  However, the reader may visit the Falun Gong Information Center.

According to Throckmorton, Marty Stephens told him he would not allow his resolution to see the light of day.  The resolution died in the House Rules Committee.  The thousands of brutalized Falun Gong practitioners were silenced without so much as a floor debate.  An interesting message from the host of the Olympics held that same year.

With regard to SB 175 S2, the bill passed out of the senate on February 19, 2004.  Within TWO BUSINESS DAYS, February 23, Speaker Stephens had assigned it via the Rules Committee to the House Judiciary Committee.  It was heard ONE DAY later, on February 24, the last day this committee was held this session.  If Speaker Stephens was opposed to this bill, why did he fast track it in such a hurry?
Read SB 175 S2 or read a synopsis of the bill and a history of the battles surrounding it.

I attended the House Judiciary Committee meeting and observed that the committee chair moved that all other items on the agenda be heard before SB 175 S2. The committee meeting and eventual debate on SB 175 S2 lasted 2.5 hours.  While proponents, comprised of paid lobbyists and bureaucrats, spoke on the bill for over an hour, opponents of SB 175 S2, all unpaid citizens, received a total of approximately 10 minutes (5 speakers for 2 minutes per person).

Citizens at the committee meeting were informed by Representative Morgan Philpot that Speaker Stephens and leadership were going to stop SB 175 from coming out of the House Judiciary Committee. In a transparent display of political theatrics, Stephens arrived at the committee hearing shortly before the vote.  He popped his head in the room and slowly surveyed the landscape.  He then hovered outside the room for some time.

I noticed that committee member Greg Curtis, who is also the House Majority Leader (and who takes his orders from Speaker Stephens), was conspicuously absent for the debate.  But just before action was taken on SB 175 S2, Curtis entered the room and proceeded around the table; whispering things to different committee members. Curtis then joined in voting to recommend that the bill be passed out of committee and sent to the floor.

While less experienced observers might be fooled by Speaker Stephens' theatrics, those who have been on the receiving end of similar shenanigans understand his gamesmanship. Stephens is no fool.  He is meticulous at counting votes and securing the support of his leadership team before significant battles.  He is also astute enough to understand the political price tag that hung in the balance, and artful enough to attempt to minimize his exposure.

The point is this: If Stephens had really been determined to obstruct the passage of SB 175 S2, the bill would not have made it to the House Judiciary Committee at all. Ultimately, SB 175 S2 would only have made it to the House floor if a majority of the house had voted to bring it out of the Rules Committee.  Without a public committee hearing, the bill would have been more vulnerable to attack by confiscation opponents.  And without the fast-tracking that amounted to an unspoken endorsement by Stephens and his leadership team, the bill's passage would have been very questionable.

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7. The Bruised Feelings of a "Benevolent" Monarch

Speaker Stephens has repeatedly been asked by citizens, including myself, to embrace ethics reforms that include the limitation of the powers of the House Speaker.  He has consistently refused.

Citizens have caught on to Speaker Stephens' game and are now pressuring him to exert the same powers he so artfully utilizes to kill so many good bills and to likewise kill Senate Bill 175 S2.  Speaker Stephens has expressed outrage at this pressure.  He appears to feel that such accountability is uncivil and unwarranted.

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8. The Buck Stops with the House Speaker (Marty Stephens)

Like King George of old, Speaker Stephens does not want you to realize that he holds all the cards.  Rather than rule openly, he uses those he appoints to powerful committees to secretly do his bidding.  If SB 175 S2 passes and you lose your rights to due process, you need to remember something: The responsibility absolutely rests upon Marty Stephens, the House Monarch.

The answer to restoring true and equal representation to the House of Representatives is to pull down the power of the House Speaker and disperse them amongst the entire body.  Let committee members be elected, let bills always come to the floor by a simple majority, and allow bills to be considered in the order in which they are received (no more fast tracking or forever holding bills in the Rules Committee).  End the back door schemes, the deceit, and the manipulation so that voters can know exactly where their officials stand.

It is truly the greatest mercy to find and elect lawmakers who will demand these and other crucial ethics reforms.  This much power should not be wished upon our worst enemies, nor entrusted to the greatest of orators.

Daniel Newby
(801) 281-2670
im4independence@yahoo.com


Note: These are my personal opinions.  It should be noted that the Senate President holds that body hostage with almost identical powers.  See Senate Rules 1-3-102. Duties of the president.

 

 

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Permission to reprint this article in whole or in part is hereby granted provided that Accountability Utah is cited.  Citizens are encouraged to share this information with others.  See the "Fraud, Waste, Abuse & Ethics" section of our Issues & Alerts for more information.

 

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