UTAH (NPJ) – A group of State Senators, House Representatives, and local citizens gathered over a breakfast of pancakes and eggs in American Fork late last month, eager to discuss and debate issues and pending bills with their constituents. The town hall meeting was held on the one year anniversary of the Tea Party movement. Town hall meetings have come to represent a new level of involvement of citizens in government matters, and an avenue of communication from elected leaders to their constituents where political direction is argued, sometimes passionately.

The town hall panel comprised of Utah state legislators Senator John Valentine (Dist. 14), Senator Howard Stephenson (Dist. 11), Representative Craig Frank (Dist. 57), Representative John Dougall (Dist. 27), and Representative Ken Sumsion (Ddist. 56), and was attended by several prominent community and political figures.

Sumsion argued that a new approach, eminent domain, be used to force the federal government to cede control of public trust lands within state boundaries. “[Taking] those oil leases cost on estimate $140 million a year to the [education] trust fund and $720 million a year from the general fund, and that’s a billion dollars [a year] taken from the State of Utah.” Utah’s estimated state budget for 2010 is $4.4 billion. This bill was approved by the Utah house on Thursday.

Frank stated that the federal government controls 67% of the land in Utah, compared with percentages in the single digits among the eastern coastal states. Frank also stated that recently leaked documents reveal the current federal administration plans to create new monuments which would put even more state land under federal control.

Of general concern among the panel and attendees was how federal mandates and regulations cost the state money, and when budgets are tight, and have been trimmed and trimmed again, there have to be ways to decrease the burden of federal expenditures, so that it doesn’t impact state programs such as education, health, and public safety.

The panel also expressed concern about federal gun regulation. Frank stated that new state legislation recently signed by Governor Herbert seeks to challenge federal control gun control. The law states that guns and ammunition manufactured in Utah, for sale and use in Utah, are not subject to federal commerce regulation. It is believed that the bill will likely be challenged as being unconstitutional and will incur substantial cost to the state to argue the case in the courts, but Frank quoted the governor who stated, “There are times when the state needs to push back against continued encroachment from the federal government.” Speaking for himself, Frank stated, “They’ve stomped on the tenth amendment, and they’ll continue to stomp on Utah unless we take a position.”

In response to those who claim the state legislature is wasting our time with “message bills,” Stephenson remarked, “There is no more important message that could be shouted today, given what the Federal government is doing in encroaching on states rights, in spending like drunken sailors. There’s no more important message that I know of. These bills are making a difference in reclaiming states’ rights and reclaiming the rights of the people.”

When asked about the one year anniversary of the tea party movement and its effect on government, the panel insisted that the impact was being felt. Sumsion stated that the push back against the growth of government and reduction in liberties are directly because of grassroots organizations such as the Tea Parties, the 9-12 movement, and the Patrick Henry Caucus. “There will be so many people going to caucus meetings that have never been because of these groups. As citizens we’re tired of [recent government abuses].”

Valentine urged involvement, “I would really love to just have a groundswell from our community to the legislators.”

Although many attendees were of like minds and applauded when their representatives demanded more local control and less government intrusion, there were differences as well. One man interested in additional ethics regulation walked out of the meeting after the group applauded in response to a representative reading a study finding that there is no correlation between campaign contributions and political corruption, and stating that restricting campaign contributions is a violation of citizen’s rights.

1Associated Press. “Utah House OKs eminent domain on federal land”. Feb 25, 2010.

2Davidson, Lee. Deseret News. “Hatch, Bennett seek to block more Utah national monuments”. Feb 23, 2010.

3Raymond, Arthur. Deseret News. “Utah Legislature: Herbert signs gun measure that defies federal laws”. Feb 26, 2010