Principle Matters – Political Power vs. Policy Power

There is exactly one thing standing between the American people and the type of government the founders of the nation envisioned. That one thing? For members of Congress to do their job!

For far too long Congress has ceded its authority to the executive branch and the regulatory state. Why has so much power shifted from the legislative branch to the executive branch? Because members of Congress have decided to abdicate authority in order to avoid accountability. Less accountability makes re-election much easier.

My former boss, Senator Mike Lee, uses a simple example to illustrate: Members of Congress love to pass bills with inspiring names, such as the “We shall have clean air” act. (Because after all, who is going to vote for dirty air?) Then within the bill Congress transfers all authority to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to decide what clean air is, what it isn’t, how to comply with the law and what the penalties will be for violations. Further, Congress allows EPA to be the judge, jury and executioner of law. There are no checks and balances for potentially outrageous and overly burdensome regulations or excessive penalties.

When an individual or company is being hurt by these regulations and they rush to a member of Congress for help or relief, the representative can say, “Hey, don’t yell at me, I just voted for clean air. You will have to go complain to the EPA.” Then that individual or company has to go to someone at EPA who is not elected by or accountable to the citizens. When Congress abdicates its policy power to federal bureaucrats, it rarely ends well for the American people.

On the other hand, we also have too many so-called leaders in Washington who are more concerned about maintaining their political power than using their constitutional policy power in conjunction with their power of the purse. Such leaders distract and even discourage the general public with fake fights, false choices and a steady stream of divisive drama. Political power seekers know that if the American people believe that we are too divided as a nation to solve a problem, it gives Congress the excuse to do nothing and the executive branch an excuse to do whatever the president wants through executive order. The result is that power, money and influence stay with Congress, along with the wealthy and well-connected. We need to demand more from Washington.

Congress abdicating policy power and obsessing on political power has weakened the checks and balances within our republic, fostered dysfunction within government, and rightly fueled public frustration toward elected officials. Congress caused this mess, and only Congress can clean it up by reasserting its power and proper role. By putting Congress back in charge of making and funding federal policy, we can once again put the American people back in charge of their government – as it should be.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

Outrage, riots and knowing where you’re going

It is so easy to get swept away in the fog, rhetorical riptides and tweet storms of the digital age. Leaders can overwhelm the public with a whirlwind of words designed to distract and confuse – often leaving citizens wondering where in the world we are. If we do not know where we currently are, it is impossible for us to chart a course to where we truly want to go.

Long years ago, before cell phones, Google Maps and GPS systems, I was on a speaking tour in Ireland. On the first day of my tour I was scheduled to speak to corporate executives at a company in Cork. I set out for the speech with a very specific and detailed old-school map. I immediately encountered several ring roads and roundabouts, and soon had no idea where I was. After about 20 minutes of wandering through the Irish countryside, I realized that this was not a good use of my time and I did the hard thing: I bit my ego and pulled into a little gas station at the side of the road to ask for directions. Map in hand, I went in and asked the man behind the counter, “Where am I?” The man obviously knew I was a foreigner, because he just flashed me a big Irish grin and said, “Why, you’re in Ireland don’t you know!” I then tossed the map at him and asked, “Where am I on the map?” Once the attendant pointed to our specific location I had no problem navigating my way to my speaking engagement. By stopping to figure out where I was, or what the present reality was, I was better able to chart the right course to my desired destination.

Before a critical debate in the United States Congress, Daniel Webster said: “Mr. President, when the mariner has been tossed about for many days in thick weather on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun to take his latitude and ascertain where he is in relation to his desired course. Let us imitate this prudence and before we float on the waves of this debate refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to surmise where we now are.”

As a nation we have been through some thick weather and tossed about, to say the least. Here are a few areas where I believe we need to figure out where we really are before we start to try and solve the problems:



National division


Criminal justice

Federal lands

Health care

(Just to name a few …)

Before the American people and our elected representatives float on the waves of debate on these critical issues, let’s stop and determine where we are today.

By specifically identifying our present reality we will be able to chart the best possible course to reach our desired destination as a nation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

legs of men walking on a cobblestone square in the city

San Juan County residents bring civil opposition to S.L. Bears Ears celebration

Twelve hours on the road, 600 miles, and day-old gas-station food – that’s what a group of San Juan County residents willingly went through so they could have their voices heard at Monday’s Bears Ears celebration hosted by groups who supported the monument designation.



Throughout the campaign to designate the Bears Ears National Monument, the most important voices – those of locals who are directly impacted by the designation – were repeatedly ignored and drowned out. Local tribes and the people of San Juan County were simply outmatched by the deep pockets, deceptive tactics and loud voices of extreme environmental groups, out-of-state tribal leaders, and the pen of President Barack Obama. Despite the uphill battle these people faced, they kept fighting for their home. That fight continued on Monday evening as they worked to inform the public of their plight and persuade the Trump administration to rescind or reduce the Bears Ears National Monument.

The group of 25 or so protesters arrived more than an hour before the festivities began – standing outside with their signs and talking of their hope to get things “back to normal.” Once the event began they quietly took their seats and listened to the presentations from out-of-state tribal leaders. Such civility has been a rarity in the Bears Ears debate. Monument supporters have made a bad habit of interrupting public meetings by shouting talking points and yelling at legislators. The courtesy displayed by this small group of San Juan County residents was a model of what the exercise of our First Amendment right should look like.

After the meeting I spoke with Devin Hancock, an organizer of the protest, and asked her why her group came all the way to Salt Lake City. “This monument designation is not about love and protection of the land. It’s about control, power, publicity and money,” Hancock said. “Money-hungry recreational and environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations) used manipulative tactics to sway some Native Americans outside of San Juan County and others into believing this is right. Native Americans should not be used as political pawns; this is not a game to us.”

While their group at Monday’s event was small, the San Juan residents have what should be the most important voice in the Bears Ears debate. There is no denying that the lands within the monument are public and open to all Americans. However, no one is impacted more by Obama’s designation of the monument than the people of San Juan County. These public lands provide live-sustaining resources, jobs and educational funding, and they are an integral part of the residents’ culture and way of life. This area is a part of who they are and part of their children’s future.

Sutherland’s Education Vision

Reform requires vision. Leaders who want to transform education must know where they want to go and why they want to go there. They spread their vision by elevating public dialogue to the level of values, principles and ideals – the “attainment of the highest things.” They avoid the temptation to only oppose bad ideas without offering bold new ones, recognizing that without the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the Boston Tea Party would not have been even a footnote in history. To this end, Sutherland Institute offers its vision for education: how we view human learning, what we believe to be the purpose of education, and what education should look like once it is transformed.

Read our complete Education Vision!


Op-ed: You say goodbye and I say hello

Originally published in the Deseret News.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, President Barack Obama will say goodbye to the nation as the 44th president. Just 10 days later Donald Trump will say hello as America’s 45th president. Farewell and inaugural addresses have been with us from the founding of our nation. Endings and beginnings matter. Goodbyes and hellos have meaning. How each man approaches, writes and delivers his address will have an impact on the direction of the country.

Today we focus on Obama’s farewell.

You say goodbye

In announcing his farewell address, Obama referenced George Washington’s farewell as the model he would follow. He would be incredibly wise to pursue Washington’s “Warnings of a Parting Friend” as a pattern. Of the 6,088 words contained in Washington’s farewell, nearly all are about the future and what it would take for the country, and the American people, to remain free and strong. Washington spoke little of what he had done as president, other than to ask forgiveness for any wrongs his administration might have committed. He was humble enough to know the success of the nation was due to good people and divine providence and acknowledged the mistakes and failures that were his.

However, for many presidents the farewell address has been more of a self-indulgent review of their time in office with spotlights on their successes, a whitewash of their failures and an attempt to declare their own legacy. On Friday, Obama issued a cover letter to the American people sadly signaling that his farewell address will likely be more self-centered and self-promoting than instructive and forward-moving.

I have always had a saying for my teenage children that applies to outgoing and incoming presidents — “If you have to declare it, you aren’t it!” Teenagers love to declare, “I am an adult,” usually right before they are about to do something very childish.

Obama should avoid the temptation to declare his greatness, his success or what he believes his legacy will be. Washington-like humility would go a long way in allowing his true legacy to emerge.

The president is known as a brilliant orator and lecturer, but that doesn’t make him an authentic communicator. His final address would be the perfect time to shed the supercool, aloof persona and authentically look the American people in the eye and share something of his soul. He could highlight the struggles every president faces, the doubt encountered in facing daunting problems, the heavy burdens he surely bore in making difficult decisions and the hope he continues to have for the country in the days ahead.

At a time when national unity is desperately needed, Obama could remind us of our better angels and the goodness he has seen and experienced in the American people over the past eight years. Offering up a list of things he and the first family learned from hardworking Americans would be brilliant.

Like Washington, he could warn of foreign threats, the challenges of divisive political party rhetoric and the need for Americans to be good and do good for the country to be great.

Obama could close his goodbye by telling the American people what he is going to do in the days and weeks ahead while admitting that he sometimes fell short of these ideals. Something like this: “My fellow Americans, I know we aren’t always the UNITED States of America. Over the past eight years we haven’t always agreed on specific policies and programs — and that is OK — that is part of what makes us strong as a nation.

“Today I am asking you as your president, as your soon-to-be-former president and as a citizen of this great nation to unite with me on three action items: (1) Pray for the new administration every day. I never realized how important and powerful prayers, positive thoughts and good wishes were until I walked into the Oval Office. (2) Regardless of where you are on the ideological spectrum, join me in elevating the dialogue in our homes, in our communities and especially online. We are a nation founded on big ideas, and we are always at our best when we debate and discuss those ideas in ways that uplift and inspire. (3) Do something, anything, to serve someone in your neighborhood or community who is in need. We need to get back to watching out for each other, serving and doing good — because we can.

“Many think that hope and change were just catchy campaign slogans. As your president, I have come to learn a lot about hope. I know hope is never to be found in a political party or a person — but in the American people. Change will continue to come — as a country we will create and drive it to build a better world for everyone. Change is the essence of who we are.

“In saying goodbye, I say hello to another new chapter in our nation’s history and the forward march of liberty and justice for all.”

That kind of goodbye would get George Washington’s approval, do wonders for the nation and lead to the right kind of legacy — one that would actually last.

Good enough isn’t good enough

History is filled with once-thriving companies, communities and even countries that decided good enough was good enough. Today, the endless pursuit of maintaining the status quo of “good enough” works well for Washington politicians and insiders, but never ends well for hard-working Americans. While the distraction of political drama and infighting over the status quo may distract the media and pacify the masses for a moment, and certainly keeps the current political elites in power, it ultimately ends with a great deal of sorrow and suffering for the people of the nation.

Preserving the status quo has been the central goal of the established leaders of both political parties for decades. Both parties have served up a steady stream of fake fights and false choices to the good people of this country. They have used the tactics of division and distraction – the tactics many a tyrant down through the ages has deployed to preserve their own power.

Leaders have attempted to convince the American people that we are simply too divided as a nation to deal with the difficult issues of the day. Division has become the ultimate excuse for lawmakers and power brokers as to why they never achieve progress and current status quo remains.

For example, Washington tells us that we cannot solve the immigration issue because we are simply too divided. I maintain that 94 percent of the immigration issue could be solved in a single afternoon on the floor of the United States House and Senate – because there is overwhelming agreement on the vast majority of the commonsense solutions to our immigration problem. But leaders in Washington tell us it simply cannot be done and we need to just settle for the status quo.

Sadly, there are many individuals and organizations in Washington who raise enormous amounts of money using immigration as a divisive issue and both political parties run election campaigns with immigration as a wedge issue. The American people deserve better and should certainly expect more than the same old status quo.

Immigration is just one area where we are being told to simply settle for the status quo while political groups amass fortunes in fundraising dollars. The American people should reject the excuses of the political class and demand real dialogue, debate and serious solutions for a host of critical issues.

Sutherland Institute believes we can make real progress this year on:

  • Transforming, not destroying public education – creating flexible, student-centric learning with empowered parents, teachers and local leaders.
  • Balancing, preserving and protecting the rights of all – from the LGBT community to religious groups and everyone in between – real tolerance and mutual accommodation can be achieved.
  • Making poverty temporary instead of just tolerable.
  • Fostering a health care system where dollars and decisions are kept with patients and their doctors.
  • Ending dependence on big government solutions when community solutions can solve the problem.

In the year ahead we should reject Washington’s excuses of division, ignore political distractions, and demand more. We believe in the old saying, “You can make progress or you can make excuses but you cannot make both!”

In November of 2016 our nation voted for disruption of the status quo. More than the American people voted for a conservative or liberal agenda – our citizens voted for disruption. In America the status quo has never been sufficient for success – and good enough simply isn’t good enough for the United States of America. It is time to disrupt and destroy the status quo and create the extraordinary future the American people deserve.

For Sutherland Institute this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

How to tell when the light of a new day has come

The year 2016 was a year of derisive and demeaning rhetoric and dire predictions. It truly was a dark night of division for America. There is a critical need in our nation for all of us to let go of the darkness of the past and look to the light of a new day and a new year. More than ever we need to believe – in the goodness of the American people and the greatness that comes from looking for and finding the best that is within us and within our fellow citizens.

The story is told of an old Quaker who stood at the gate of the village greeting the travelers passing through. Often the travelers would ask the old Quaker about the people who lived in the village. The old Quaker would always respond with a question of his own. He would ask the traveler, “Tell me, what kind of people lived in your last village?”

If the traveler answered and said that the people of the last village were mean, rude and selfish, the Quaker would pause and then say, “Well, I think you will find the people here much the same.”

But if the traveler answered and said that the people of the last village were kind, considerate and caring, the old Quaker would pause and then say, “Well, I think you will find the people here much the same!”

You see, we tend to find what we look for in other people.

Far away in another time and place, a Jewish rabbi sat talking with two of his friends. The rabbi asked one of the men, “How do you know when the night is over and a new day has begun?”

His friend replied, “When you can look into the east and can distinguish a sheep from a goat, then you know the night is over and the day has begun.” The second man was asked the same question by the rabbi and replied, “When you can look into the distance and can distinguish an olive tree from a fig tree, then you know the new morning has come.”

The two friends then asked the rabbi how he could tell when the night is over and the day had begun. The rabbi thought for a long time and then said, “When you can look into the east and see the face of a woman and you can say, ‘She is my sister.’ And when you can look into the east and see the face of a man and can say, ‘He is my brother.’ Then you know the light of a new day has come.”

Think of that for a moment! The world can be a dark and negative place that needs the positive light of a new day.

We are all travelers. So as we travel about each day, I hope that when we pass by others at work, in stores, at restaurants and on roadways – that we will look past the faces of strangers and look into the faces of our brothers and sisters.

When we do, it will indeed be the beginning of a new day for each of us and for all of them. It will be an inspiring new day for our nation.

Happy New Year! It is time for it to be morning in America once more.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here


Regrettable words and the ethics of tale-bearing

Germany_Sindelfingen_GossipsRecently, the news reported some comments from a well-known, and by all accounts, generous and philanthropic individual in the state, of an unfortunate and ad hominem nature about a prominent politician. Such comments are, of course, always regrettable.

What could explain them? We have to admit that we don’t know. It could be a regrettable lapse such as all of us make—and hope will not be widely reported or remembered. It might be that the remark was misreported and, based on context or some other factor, is not as uncivil as it appeared in the report. Perhaps the speaker was experiencing some lapse, such as might be caused by a medical condition. Perhaps it accurately reflects an unkind feeling, though one hopes not. At bottom, it’s difficult to understand, much less explain.

It should be said that the story reports that there was no response from the public official impugned, which speaks well of him.

The episode raises other questions as well. For instance, what is the ethical responsibility of a person who is told by one person an unflattering characterization of another? This is a familiar scenario — the teenager, for instance, who stirs contention: “Do you know what she said about you?” What about others who relay the comment?

Also, what is the responsibility of those who seek such comments? Are they merely reporting news? Is it part of the public’s “right to know” that an admirable public person thinks badly of another? Is there yet another person in the background spurring on the expression or reporting of the comments for their own political or other purposes? What is their responsibility?

Of course, anyone active in public life runs the risk of being poorly thought of by others. Ideally, disagreements about policy choices will be expressed as such rather than as ad hominem statements. Those who are admired ought to be particularly careful not to add to the coarseness of political debate.

That does not, however, absolve the listeners, relayers and instigators of their responsibility as well.

On Point video: Holly Mullen on rape culture, 12/5/14

In this episode of On Point, Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, discusses rape culture with “Holly on the Hill” blogger Holly Richardson and Michelle Mumford, former assistant dean at BYU Law School.

You can watch all the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

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