When normal people are offended by something they read in a newspaper, they write a letter to the editor. But Kanab Mayor Kim Lawson apparently is not like most people.
When Lawson was skewered in print by a 17-year-old columnist for the Southern Utah News, he did fire off a couple of letters -- but not to the columnist, Matt Livingston, or to the editorial page. He wrote to Livingston's LDS stake president and Livingston's school superintendent.
Livingston, an intern at the weekly newspaper, writes the "Cowboy Currents" column. In a recent installment, Livingston took Lawson to task for pushing a controversial resolution through the City Council -- the "Family Vision for the City of Kanab." The resolution is based on a pretentious "manifesto" drafted by the Sutherland Institute, a right-wing group that envisions utopian cities in which men work, where women stay home to have a "quiver full" of babies, and where single parents are seen as second-class citizens. Those who don't fit in are shunned -- after receiving loving lip-service, of course.
Kanab is so far the only Utah city to adopt the proposal, drawing national scorn. Despite its high-flown rhetoric about defending and promoting ideal families, the Sutherland vision is little more than a blueprint for intolerance. As with many simplistic formulas, like the Communist Manifesto, this one falls apart at the working level. Its purported link to the LDS Church's position on families is subtly deceptive, taking a good thing over the top.
"As a fellow LDS member, I would expect a more Christ-like countenance on your part," 17-year-old Livingston wrote about Lawson. "Your actions are in the spotlight, and this time you have let down your religion, community and nation."
The kid has a point. The manifesto was co-authored and shopped around Utah cities by Paul Mero, president of Sutherland, whose regular proclamations read like the lengthy moralizing screeds in Ayn Rand novels, but not as interesting. The logical holes are big enough to drive whole truckloads of children in quivers through.
In response to the jab in the newspaper, Lawson fired off two letters. One went to Robert N. Johnson, superintendent of the Kane County School District, demanding to know if the district had oversight of what Livingston writes, especially since the name of Livingston's column includes the mascot for Kanab High School, the Cowboy.
The second letter went to Matt Brown, president of the Kanab LDS Stake, suggesting that Livingston's views were not in keeping with someone who is a member of the LDS Church and a Boy Scout to boot.
"I view Matt as representative of the future for his church and nation. We need intelligent, principled men and women to lead and guide us. Oft-times, 'mid-course' guidance is needed to ensure the target is reached."
The young writer appears to have hit a nerve, and we commend him for it. His right to criticize public officials in their official acts is virtually absolute, and he took a fair shot. It seems to us that the mayor is the one who would benefit from some mid-course guidance.
Lawson doth protest too much, wethinks. His hiney's on the griddle in Kanab, and he's flailing wildly to save face. He'd never try such intimidation tactics with an adult, but he sees an opportunity with a young man with presumably less clout. Livingston's employer should stand behind the young columnist and tell the mayor that if he can't take the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.
The "mid-course guidance" the mayor is seeking is as clear as it is inappropriate: ecclesiastical sanctions and school punishment for exercising a constitutional right. It is a cheap pressure tactic. The mayor should pick on someone his own size.
This is not Lawson's first attempt at strong-arming a critic into silence. In 2003, Lawson asked then-Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Utah Press Association to remove Southern Utah News editor Dixie Brunner from the Utah Records Commission because he didn't like how she covered his city.
Lashing out at this teenager shows even less class, especially since Livingston was pretty much on target. The lesson Lawson wants to teach (i.e. "don't question authority") is simply wrong.
Mayor Lawson needs to learn more about the role of free speech in American society. A 17-year-old writer in Kanab could teach him a thing or two. Lawson should lay off.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A6.