Leah Murray's fingers flew over her iPad screen during Wednesday's talk by almost all of Utah's living governors.
"Live fact-checking," she chortled. "This is why I love this thing."
Murray teaches political science at Weber State University, so the forum was her idea of heaven. I listened to the governors answer questions over her running commentary.
A student asked the governors what Utah was doing to protect the state's water from the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing used for natural gas drilling.
Before former Gov. Mike Leavitt was done saying that fracking is new technology, so "we ought not to jump to the conclusion that early studies are conclusive," Murray was muttering triumphantly, "Here's why."
She pointed to a news story about how some aspects of fracking are not being studied by the Environmental Protection Agency because of political pressure.
Plus, the story published March 3, 2011, in the New York Times states, "Natural gas drilling companies have major exemptions from parts of at least seven of the 15 sweeping federal environmental laws that regulate most other heavy industries and were written to protect air and drinking water from radioactive and hazardous chemicals."
Hey, Leavitt: Anyone can say something might be safe if it has exemptions from the law.
Wednesday's festivities weren't all picking of nits. It was genuinely fun to see Gov. Gary Herbert joined by Leavitt (via computer) and former Govs. Olene Walker and Norm Bangerter on one stage.
They were the opening act of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service. Walker is starting the institute as a gift to her alma mater and the community in which she was reared.
As the assembled governors, all Republicans, talked, I found myself playing a mental game I call "which one would be a Democrat now?"
The Republican Party has swerved far right of where it was even 20 years ago. Herbert doesn't dare stray from the new party line because he's up for re-election, and Leavitt is too fresh from his time working for former President George W. Bush.
But Walker easily could be. Heck, Democrats in her Salt Lake City district sent her multiple times to the Legislature. She has always been more interested in meeting needs than in party ideology.
Consider fracking and water quality. While the other governors defended fracking because Utah needs the energy, she pointed out that Utah needs good water more.
"Water ought to be at the top of the list, because as Utah develops, at some point water will be No. 1," she said.
Bangerter might also qualify. He talks GOP but raised taxes during his first term in office, a mortal sin today.
Bangerter still defends that action. He said it is irresponsible for government to deprive itself of any tool, and anti-tax pledges do just that.
"Did the taxes we raised make the difference?" he said. "No, but the taxes sent a signal, and the signal is that we were going to do whatever we have to do to meet the challenge."
Bangerter took a hit. "My popularity went from 75 percent to 41 percent in three weeks," but he still won re-election.
And, actually, he said the taxes he raised did make one difference.
For decades, Utah has preached support for education but struggled to pay for it. The reasons are both political and demographic, but Bangerter noted, with some pride, that state funding for education hit its historic high in 1992.
His last year in office.
After he raised taxes.
The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at www.standard.net.