August 2015

Alliance for a Better Utah

At our July meeting, Josh Kantor, who co-founded Alliance for a Better Utah, told us why he wanted to organize around making life better in Utah. He came to Salt Lake from Chicago then realized that in Utah, “you can do stuff here” and influence actions even without a lot of money.

So, Josh launched his not-for-profit Alliance in Jan. 2011, planning to bring transparency, accountability and intellectual honesty to Utah issues. He wanted a broad-based progressive voice, independent of politics, party, business, religion, etc.

Josh heard Tally Sherrod give a TED talk on optimism bias. Turns out most people think they are in the top or best 25% in any kind of situation such as driving or friendliness. For instance, two out of five newlyweds will get divorced. But when questioned, none of them think they will divorce. They are optimistic, like most people. Studies also show that the more optimistic people are, the happier they are. Josh is optimistic about Utah politics. He continues to believe that we can make anything happen in Utah. He wants to use our common optimism bias generating more and more support to offer a transparent, balanced view of issues here in Utah. He believes working together like this could lead to more optimism and thus, happier people.

Josh Kantor’s first issue came out of working on the Peter Corroon campaign for governor. An ongoing $13 million UDOT scandal was not publically pursued during the campaign. When Mr. Corroon brought it up, he was accused of trying to score political points to win an election. Josh Kantor wanted to have a third party organization bring up issues like this so that balanced information would be made transparent to the public at large and it wouldn’t get lost because revelation seemed to benefit one side or another.

Another part of the early work of the Alliance for a Better Utah (ABU) was on immigration. They put up a billboard on I-215, which said “God doesn’t discriminate, why should you?”

Next, the Alliance for a Better Utah asked Mike Waddoups, Senate President, why Utah turned down $100 million from the Federal Government for a jobs program. Mr. Waddoups said that Utahns need to wean themselves off the Federal government and maybe “those people will get jobs”. ABU demanded an apology and appealed to the Tribune to write an editorial demanding Mr. Waddoups be fired; which they did. Mike Waddoups did not run again. Josh self-deprecatingly said he did not know if that decision to leave politics was related to the publicity Mr. Waddoups received from the Alliance for a Better Utah.

More recently, ABU became involved in the John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff issues. Years went by with little or no investigation initiated. Using the Al Capone model of investigation, ABU looked at Swallow’s campaign filing reports, found discrepancies, publicized them and started the investigations we have now.

Concerning healthcare reform, ABU wants to partner with organizations that have the expertise and depth to form policy. They want to press the accountability issue. The legislators Christensen and Dunnigan have been holding up voting on the Healthy Utah bill in the Utah legislature. ABU has sent a mailer into their districts saying those guys were stopping progress. Time will tell how that issue turns out. In the meantime, ABU had a press conference on July 15 at the Capitol. Supporters wore T-shirts with “#Still Waiting” on them. It has been about 1100 days since Utah could have had Medicaid Expansion. ABU is asking that the legislature act now on healthcare reform.

At the web site is more information about the Alliance for a Better Utah and a way to sign up to receive notices concerning further actions and other ways to participate as well as make tax deductible donations to help them help us be happier.

—Lauren Florence, MD

President’s Report

I’m looking forward to our BBQ this month and I hope many of you will come and join us for the evening. I also want to let those of you who signed up for our free subscription at the Pride Festival an additional invite to come and bring a friend. I always have a great time in John Young’s backyard visiting with everyone and stuffing my face with good food. So, again, please join us

Now, I think I’ll ramble a little about a couple items in the news recently. Some of you might say that’s what I always do.

But lately I have been thinking a fair amount about how religious conservatives have reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision making gay marriage legal everywhere in the U.S. It’s amazing how apoplectic they become and how they strike out with all sorts of stupid, nasty, mean and disgusting statements.

But one of the blog entries I came across has kind of stayed with me. The blogger was, it seemed, quite sure this horrible decision by the court was a sign of the end times or the “real beginning of the end.” He was, making himself, “ready,” with provisions as he put it. Which was a little puzzling and humorous at the same time, as I wondered why he needed provisions if it was going to be the “END.”

Of course this is nothing new as we have witnessed through the years with their opposition to so many changes in this country that have moved us ahead. Giving women the right to vote was a good thing. Getting rid of the laws prohibiting interracial marriage was a good thing. Instituting the civil rights legislation was a good thing and the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage was the right thing to do. None of these changes have caused the end of civilization. They have in fact improved it. But it is nearly always the case that it is religious conservatives who opposed these changes. And it never occurs to these folks, as it does to us, that they are always wrong about the effects of these progressive changes.

Finally, I have to comment on an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune. On August 5th, by Thomas J. Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, titled “Utah should refuse to submit a clean power plan.” The column is mostly about problems with regulations concerning mercury emissions and eventual carbon rules that have been overturned by the Supreme Court. But for me what is most apparent to me is how this op-ed is really all about the cost. This is nothing new coming form an “energy alliance.”

I am not naïve, I know costs are a legitimate consideration, but what is strikingly absent is any mention of the environmental issues or health issues and their costs. I’m sure we can cite statistics showing the billions pollutions cost us medically and environmentally. But how do you put a price on quality of life issues. If pollutants cause say asthma problems for you or your children, what is that change in quality of life worth in dollars. What if a person’s lung cancer is caused or other ailments made worse by pollutants. How do you quantify those changes in terms of dollars. For the energy interests profits are all that matters.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU

Born to Learn, Martha Ross Steward Soon Chose Her Very Own Path

Martha Stewart was a founding member of Hmanists of Utah. Eileen Hallet Stone, author of the Living History column in the Salt Lake Tribune addressed our group in November 2103.


In July 1915, Martha Ross Stewart was born in Salt Lake City with a built-in penchant for learning that would influence her life and those of others for more than 90 years.

The middle child of Utah calligrapher Milton Ross and his wife Harriet, she questioned everything without pause. During the dog days of summer in 1918, her mother hadn’t the energy to keep up with her. Pregnant and exhausted by the dry summer heat, Ross handed the 3-year-old “The Book of Knowledge,” and the precocious child was soon reading.

“The book was a source of entertainment and cultural shaping,” her daughter Heather Stewart Dorrell said. “It was probably her first gleaning of a much larger world outside her immediate value system.”When Martha was 14 and attending LDS High School, a private school run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she took theology classes and decided — to the lifelong consternation of her father — she was not of the faith.

That summer, while vacationing at the family’s cabin in Lamb’s Canyon, she also met Justin Stewart.

In the 1890s, the brothers Scott and John Stewart surveyed land in Provo Canyon for the U.S. government to issue homestead claims, and decided to make “the exquisite wilderness” a home of their own. In 1969, more than 5,000 acres of land called Stewart Flat were sold to Robert Redford and dedicated to environmental conservation and the Sundance Resort.

“John’s son, my father, was a young employee of the Forest Service who rode fence lines for the county,” Dorrell said. “Yodeling up and down the canyon, mother saw him on his horse and was a goner. Dad became the lodestar of everyday people and the love of her life.”

Graduating from high school, 15-year-old Martha enrolled at the University of Utah, studied literature and the arts and left with high honors at age 19. During the depths of the Depression in 1935 she taught at a local high school and then traveled east to marry her beloved on New Year’s Eve in New York City.

The couple maintained a long distance relationship until he completed graduate school at Columbia University. Returning to Salt Lake City, they lived in the Avenues, raised three children and, as humanists, joined the Unitarian Church.

“Father worked with the Office of Price Administration during WWII,” Dorrell said. “He set up farm cooperatives throughout Utah, and then became a lawyer.”

Augmenting the family’s income, Martha became a librarian. She worked at the Salt Lake City Library and Utah State Library for the Blind. When she became an expert researcher for the Utah State Historical Society, reporters from The Salt Lake Tribune in need of information were known to call the historical society and shout, “Get me Martha!”

Martha Ross Stewart was a fine artist in oils and watercolors. She illustrated children’s books, made linoleum block prints, clipped paper cutouts, and designed exquisite stained glass windows.

From age 17, she wrote poetry cached in a binder. Some of the verses are wry, light, sharp with puns; others are autobiographical and discerning.

“We search each other’s shining eyes in amorous inspections

“And you don’t know and I don’t know we’re finding small reflections.”

Said her son, Peter: “Mother adopted a [way] to appear like a round peg fitting in to attain her goals of husband, family, home, and community of friends while providing an outlet for her restless intellect.”

For 25 years Stewart hosted bi-monthly brunches at home to explore the veracity of life and ethics. A humanist salon comprised of free thinkers, it included a Who’s Who of Utah intellectuals, politicians, religious liberals, activists, newsmakers, historians, journalists, professors, psychologists and librarians.

Until her death at 93, Stewart wrote and discovered herself with no-holds-barred candor.

—Eileen Hallet Stone
Published in the
Salt Lake Tribune
August 7, 2015