Utah Legislature: Phil Riesen's Shanghai of Greg Hughes is About to Bite Back

When I first read about the accusations against Utah State Republican Representative Greg Hughes, my first reaction was to ignore the fact that the allegations were brought up right before an election, and to think he was guilty. Since Hughes has been cleared of all allegations by a bi-partisan committee, it appears that I should have not ignored that timing.

Hughes, after nearly three weeks of negative press, was cleared of all charges. Phil Riesen, Democrat Utah State Representative, was the one who made the allegations public. Riesen, rightly, will now be the next legislator to have a personal political proctology exam.

For the last few years, I have thought of former news anchor and current stage legislator Phil Riesen as a man of great

Hughes can be a bully, according to a former Republican legislator. But what Riesen did is much worse.

integrity. No longer. The latest failed ploy against a Republican legislator proves that the Utah Democrats are at least as unethical as the Republicans in trying to build up their empire--if not more.

Did you know that the allegations made by Susan Lawrence that Greg Hughes offered her
tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in 2006 if she would switch her vote on the controversial private school voucher issue
happened before the last election? Did you know that Susan Lawrence didn't think that her concerns and accusations should be made public, but wanted them, rather, to become known only to legislators who are about to overhaul ethics rules in the next session?

Armed with the understanding that nothing could legally stop him

In an effort to raise the stature of the Democratic party party in Utah, he's put the party and his fellow legislators in a very terrible situation. It will be interesting to see if his fellow Democrats cut bait or follow him over an ethical cliff.

from making the allegations public, Democrat Representative Phil Riesen did just that. Knowing that only 5 weeks remained until the November 2008 elections, Riesen went on the attack. Now that Hughes has been exonerated of all charges, Riesen is probably wishing that the committee hearings had taken just a bit longer. The Salt Lake Tribune reported
Hughes was accused of attempting to bribe a former lawmaker to support school vouchers, of strong-arming lobbyists into backing the voucher movement, of threatening would-be political foes, and of pressuring lobbyists not to support a GOP voucher opponent.

After seven days of closed-door testimony, the committee [of four republicans and four democrats] determined that the six charges lacked merit.
Riesen is next. He used pro bono work from his own law firm to draft the charges against Hughes. Hughes told KSL's Doug Wright this morning that of 9 supposed witnesses on the primary allegation of bribery, none could corroborate the allegations against him. He said that he is likely to take up civil litigation against Riesen in response to Riesen's "fishing expedition".

A former Republican legislator told me that Hughes can be a

Now that Hughes has been exonerated of all charges, Riesen is probably wishing that the committee hearings had taken just a bit longer.

bully. It sounds like, based on the ethics committee's findings that that's true. Greg Hughes told Doug Wright that he needs to exercise more sensitivity with his colleagues and constituents. But that's all the bi-partisan ethics committee found.

What Phil Riesen did is much worse. In an effort to raise the stature of the Democratic party party in Utah, he's put the party and his fellow legislators in a very terrible situation. It will be interesting to see if his fellow Democrats cut bait or follow him over an ethical cliff.


  1. I'm not sure I agree with all of your conclusions here. I've always been disappointed the media focused primarily on the bribery allegation. It, like the two of the other complaints, came down to a party-line vote (4-4).

    You're right that it's a failure of the process--I think the partisan nature of the vote demonstrates that.

    You may be interested to read through Rep Riesen's response [pdf] to the complaint against him. I don't agree with all of the arguments, but references to the whistleblower protection statute are something to think about. The complaint about not "reporting" help from attorneys is adequately rebuffed IMHO by cites of statue.

    The trouble with ethics complaints--and you point this out--is the retaliation that follows.

  2. Hughes was cleared in large part only because of the weak standards and guidelines the the ethics committee works under. He would be unwise to take it to a civil court where standards are different. From one who was deeply engaged on the hill during the voucher debate, I believe there were many abuses of power which took place. Hughes' was just unlucky enough to have someone willing to file a complaint. And as far as lobbyists testifying? Well, why would one be foolish enough to risk corroboration? Only if you don't care about your job would you be that foolish.

  3. Hughes apparently pushed the envelope a bit on this. And he apparently can be somewhat of a bully.

    But I don't buy the whistleblower routine for Riesen. This was not an attempt to get at the truth. Rather, it was a clear attempt by the sore winner anti-voucher crowd to produce an October Surprise aimed at taking out one of the most ardent supporters of vouchers.

    When you look at the timing of and the main movers and shakers behind the complaint, it is very difficult (unless you're a partisan hack) to escape the fact that this was about gaining political advantage by hook or by crook. The tactics used by the folks behind the complaint are more odious than Hughes' ethical violations.

    In the end, the whole thing stinks. We end up with a lot of partisan bickering without getting any closer to improving legislative ethics. The people of Utah are the losers in this mess.

  4. Tom,

    I think you're right that there will be retaliation, and that at some point Hughes needs to change his attitude and tactics. It's interesting, though, that Susan Lawrence's document said that she thought that the offer was something like $50,000.


    Good luck in your District 66 election! I've seen your signs around and looked at your campaign blog, and I'd probably vote for you if I lived in 66. I was approached by the State Dems (and almost did it) to run against Patrick Painter in District 67.

    I agree that there needs to be a severe tightening of ethics in the Utah legislature. I've written about the bribery aspect here and here.

    I'm very saddened, however, by the timing of the charges. It smacks of the October surprise tactics used by other Democrats in other states. It should have come out, but not right before an election. I'm disappointed that on a 4-4 party-line vote yesterday, it was decided that Rep Riesen's case would not even be considered.

    I agree with Reach Upward that it's an attempt to "gain[] political advantage by hook or by crook" and that it bodes ill for partisan politics. It puts a sour taste in everyone's mouth about improving ethics in the upcoming legislative session.

  5. Frank,

    "was cleared of all charges" should not be taken as the final verdict on truth, but merely a passive subjunctive statement which means about as much as saying the fence got painted.

    Last time I checked, there IS no process remotely resembling a thorough transparent investigation of ethics violations in our Utah Leg.

    The American Judicial system is NOT what vindicated Hughes. Hughes buddies vindicated Hughes.

    ...and Lisa Johnson will kick his ass. If not this time, next time.

  6. Funny Cliff,

    I was kind of thinking the same things as you, except I thought them about Phil Riesen. Four of his buddies put the kibosh on even hearing the evidence against him.

    Do you find it interesting that Lisa Johnson (and Wayne Holland) told Utah reporters that they didn't know a thing about the bombshell that Riesen was about to release to the press. Besides the snide timing of the whole thing, don't you really find Johnson and Holland's claims a bit unbelievable?


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