Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rep. Garn's Hot Tub Time Machine

On the last day of the session, Utah House Majority Leader stepped into his personal way-back machine to 1985 via a hot tub, just like the John Cusack comedy.

Twenty-five years ago, I made a mistake that has now come back to haunt me. I was 28 years old and I foolishly went hot-tubbing with a young woman nearly half my age. Although we did not have any sexual contact, it was still clearly inappropriate — and it was my fault.

One of the consequences of that decision was the negative impact it had on this young person's life. Years later, when I was running for Congress, she decided to bring this incident to the attention of the media. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I met with her, and at her demand, I paid her $150,000. While this payment felt like extortion, I also felt like I should take her word that the money would help her heal. She agreed to keep this 25-year-old incident confidential. Now that this issue is coming up again, it is apparent to me that this payment was also a mistake.
Translation, when he was 28, he and a then-15 year old staffer both entered into a hot tub. Naked. He claims nothing sexual happened.

"He is not being completely honest," [Cheryl] Maher told the Deseret News by telephone from her home in New Hampshire.
Maher declined to be specific about what happened, but said Garn "likes massage." She said she does not want to talk about specifics because she wants the focus not on Garn's actions but on "the devastation of my life because of sexual abuse that happens to so many." She hopes that by talking, "others will come forward, too."
So there are two things going on here: (1) inappropriate contact with an underage staffer, regardless of what happened in that hot tub in 1985; (2) he attempted to bribe her/she attempted to blackmail him when he was running for the 1st District seat against Rob Bishop in 2002. Oh and there is a third element: the Deseret News knew about it and sat on the story back in 2002.

Before we go on, it is important to note that this is not as momentous and important as the unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program that the New York Times knew about in 2004 but spiked so as not to appear to try to tip the scales for John Kerry. Nevertheless, this man was running for Congress and had displayed questionable judgment twice, first in a hot tub in 1985, and second in 2002 when he gave Ms. Maher $150,000. Worse still, he roped in Maher's LDS bishop in this whole corrupt bargin.

Another appalling fact is that after Garn gave his confessional on the Utah House floor, his colleagues clapped for him.

So that makes the second member of the GOP leadership that has been undone and resigned by a morality scandal. Sheldon Kilpack, the Senate Majority Leader, was arrested for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol. Apparently, it was well known that Killpack had a drinking problem, but no one cared until he was caught endangering the legislative agenda public. I hope he gets help for his addiction.

Clearly, these scandals had such bite because the legislature was in session. If Kilpack had a DUI any other time of a year, he might have been able to hang on to his leadership position. Garn's scandal seems too big to have gone away. Nevertheless, Maher's (or Garn's political opponents') timing in resurrecting this story is far from coincidental.

One can argue that Deseret News was right to not publish the story during the 2002 GOP congressional primary, what excuse do they have for not publishing it afterwards? That he lost? What Garn did still could be 1-2 crimes. True, Maher's demand for $150,000 is far from innocent. Unlike Lohra Miller, however, David Yocum was competent enough to have screened both of them for charges rather than just one side at a time.