Kevin Garn is gone from Utah politics after a sordid 25-year secret was finally laid bare in a bizarre end-of-session legislative speech last week. Garn, 55, admitted to sharing a hot tub with a 15-year-old girl 25 years ago. Both were nude. Also, Garn admitted that he paid $150,000 in 2002 to the woman, Cheryl Maher, for her to keep quiet about the incident.
Garn's resignation reminds us that in politics, most secrets eventually are revealed. There may be more to the story. We promise to keep our readers informed. There is one ghastly sidelight to all this that merits further discussion: the standing ovation Garn received from his colleagues in the Utah House after his mea culpa. What a distasteful show. What a bad example for our children. Do we want them to learn that admission to appalling behavior -- long after it's occurred and with a payoff -- merits praise and applause?
In what other venue would Garn's admission have been met with applause other than the old boy's club known as the Utah Legislature? Utah House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, incredibly said this, "I would ask my fellow colleagues that their hearts might be open, and that we wish you and your family all the best and we hope that you remain with us."
"We hope that you remain with us." That appalling comment deserves repeating. It nails the attitude last week in the Utah House. Clark later defended his comments and the ovation, saying it shouldn't be construed as approval for Garn. But there's no other way to read the show of support. Legislators aren't stupid. They know Garn only made that speech because he hoped to dilute the effects of newspaper stories the next day. It's a common practice for politicians and others to release bad news first and then try to ride out the storm. In Garn's case, thankfully the only people he was able to spin -- at least last week -- were his colleagues in the House.
Where was concern for Cheryl Maher last week from legislators? There appears to be circumstancial evidence that the experience has caused personal trauma in her life. Frankly, the entire Garn incident, and how it was handled, is an advertisement for real ethics reform in the Utah Legislature -- not the baby steps recently passed by legislators, but the citizens initiatives that will be on the ballot this fall if enough signatures can be gathered.