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Know the West

Fire squads in Utah, metaphysical debates in Arizona politics

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


Does God care passionately about the right to bear arms? Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth kicked off a metaphysical debate in the Arizona Legislature recently, when he asserted that the Second Amendment guaranteed people the God-given right to self-defense, reports the Phoenix New Times. Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, a Democrat, rose to disagree. “Twice on this floor I’ve heard members say that I have the God-given right to bear arms,” she said, “and since I know that God didn’t write the Constitution I just wanted to state that. And I vote ‘no.’ ” Another lawmaker echoed her take on American history, praising the “humans, great humans, who wrote the Constitution.” Farnsworth countered by insisting that God weighed in on the Constitution because He got involved in the Declaration of Independence; after all, it famously declares that “Americans are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” At that point, legislators apparently agreed to disagree about God’s position on the two gun bills in question.

Exactly what is a “conservative?” Freshman Republican State Rep. Dan Thurlow, who represents Grand Junction, a very Republican city in western Colorado, recently broke ranks with his party when he voted to ban “conversion therapy,” the controversial notion that assumes mental health professionals can “cure” people of being gay, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “To me, the conservative position is to stay out of other people’s lives,” Thurlow explained, “and everybody should have the ability to live the lives they want. I’m not trying to change anybody.”

Court-ordered deaths could change dramatically, and noisily, in Utah, if firing squads make a comeback. The state Senate passed a bill that would make Utah the only state to allow firing squads to carry out a death penalty if execution drugs aren’t available. Just a decade ago, the state abandoned firing squads as inhumane. But bill sponsor Paul Ray argued recently in Salt Lake City that “a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane than the drawn-out deaths that have occurred in botched lethal injections,” reports the Associated Press. Meanwhile, a far different bill awaits action by the state Senate; if passed, it would allow patients with certain medical conditions to receive prescriptions for edible marijuana. But here’s the rub: An agent of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration warned that backcountry marijuana farms harm the environment and even corrupt rabbits, who “had cultivated a taste for the marijuana … one of them refused to leave us. …” The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham was particularly bemused by agent Matt Fairbanks’ remarks, especially given the current “nationwide epidemic of catnip abuse.” Fairbanks’ hare-raising stories failed to frighten his listeners; as the Post concluded: “There was a time, not too long ago, when drug warriors terrified a nation with images of ‘the devil’s weed’ and ‘reefer madness.’ Now, it seems that enforcers of marijuana law are conjuring up a stoned bunny?”

Explaining that Hindus “worship cows,” Idaho State Sen. Steve Vick boycotted morning prayers at a recent legislative session because a Hindu cleric had been invited to give the invocation. The Idaho Statesman labeled Vick’s behavior, and that of two other boycotting state senators, a “pitiful” prayer snub, and the Idaho Press-Tribune headlined its editorial: “Time to end public prayers in the Statehouse?” For his part, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, politely turned the other cheek and prayed to the “deity supreme” that the state’s elected officials “may long together dwell in unity and concord.” Given that four out of five people in Idaho call themselves Christians, it is not surprising that the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee recently considered declaring Idaho a “Christian state.” In the same vein, reports the Los Angeles Times, the Idaho’s Ada County Highway District recently voted to start its public meetings with a prayer — a policy they reversed after some citizens loudly protested that “God doesn’t have much to do with asphalt.”

The monthly Whatcom Watch, a community forum on government, environmental issues and media, has been a blast of fresh air since 1992, taking on everything from coal terminals proposed in vulnerable locations to the alarming effects of dairy pollution, as illustrated in the recent headline: “Got milk? Got manure!” There are 48,964 cows in Whatcom County, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, each dairy cow can generate over 120 pounds of manure each day. This prodigious output does not vanish into thin air; it gets dumped in unlined lagoons or spread as fertilizer on farm fields. The result is pollution that compromises the drinking water of 20,000 county residents, who depend on “one of the most contaminated aquifers in the state.” So in case you’ve been wondering, kids: That is not chocolate milk being spilled at your local dairy.