[Liquor Laws, Again] While driving to work this morning, I heard Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Robert Gehrke on KSL radio's Doug Wright Show. Wright had invited Gehrke to defend his reporting on this story, dated Feb. 3. Why? Because the night before, on KSL's Nightside Project, Senate President Michael Waddoups did a 180-degree reversal on his earlier position supporting a bill to establish a statewide database of information culled from bar patrons' drivers licenses.
Waddoups told Nightside Project co-host Ethan Millard the notion of scanning bar codes on drivers' licenses and storing personal data on people for law enforcement purposes is something "we're not even talking about yet," and that "no one's even buying into it at this point."
It was a complete flip from his comments two days earlier to the Trib's Gehrke. In that interview, Waddoups discussed the possibility of even extending the data base to restaurants--so they could cross-check information with bars and private clubs to help regulate overserving liquor.
When asked about the varying accounts of his position in the Salt Lake media, Waddoups responded: "Let me give you a bit of advice. Don't believe everything you hear in the press."
Today the public learned that both Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, and Waddoups have dropped their as-yet unwritten proposals on establishing a drinkers' database.
With KSL's Wright, Gehrke stood by his work on the liquor law stories, and said he quoted Waddoups accurately earlier in the week.
What I like most about all of this chaos in the past few days is that the watchdog role of the press on this issue worked. It worked like a charm. Valentine and Waddoups conjured up a very bad idea for a law. Members of the local press found out about it early enough in the legislative session to write about it and write some more. The idea that government would have private information on where citizens choose to spend their legal, free time on some database gave people the creeps. It enraged them. Because if there's one common thread between the left and the right, it's that government has no right to snoop into people's personal lives while they're behaving legally.
This is exactly how the press is supposed to do its job. The legislators saw this thing for the potential quagmire it is. They flipped. (BTW, Waddoups has a record for doing so on liquor laws.) Thank god it happened early in the session, when citizens could actually express their rage with it all. Otherwise, we'd have the thing crammed down our throats.
One final note: Gehrke is one of the most thorough and professional reporters in this state, and it's quite clear that Waddoups hung him out to dry. (Holly Mullen)