‘We shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff’: Texts show House Republicans complained to UTA about Pride bus
Jun 6, 2023, 7:38 PM | Updated: Jun 16, 2023, 11:59 am
(Utah Transit Authority via Twitter)
SALT LAKE CITY — At least four Republican state lawmakers pushed the Utah Transit Authority to remove rainbow livery from a Pride-themed bus days before the bus was pulled from the Utah Pride Parade, according to texts obtained Tuesday by KSL.com.
Backlash against the bus began on May 31, after the UTA tweeted a photo of the pride bus along with the message: “We are grateful for our LGBTQ+ riders and employees and look forward to celebrating Pride with you all month long.”
Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, retweeted the post, saying, “Why is @RideUTA using tax dollars on this? Also Quasi-State agencies must remain apolitical.”
Lee has previously used a private Twitter account to mock members of the LGBTQ community, including using an anti-transgender slur he later said he “had no clue” was “so disparaging.”
UTA’s tweet apparently angered other conservatives in the state Legislature, several of whom texted UTA officials asking for an apology. Lee told KSL NewsRadio on Friday that he was among the group of lawmakers who complained.
KSL.com obtained text messages from four of the lawmakers: House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper; Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman; Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi; and Rep. Colin Jack, R-St. George.
Schultz, the No. 2 Republican in the Utah House of Representatives, texted Beth Holbrook, a member of the UTA Board of Trustees, a screenshot of UTA’s tweet on the evening of May 31, saying, “This is causing me a whole bunch of drama right now inside my caucus. Is it really necessary? Can you reevaluate this decision?”
“I’ve had 2 more of my colleagues text me in the last 10 min.,” he said, after Holbrook responded that she would talk with her colleagues and get back to him. “We probably need to get a meeting together. Honestly this is the last thing I want to deal with right now. It seriously would be best if you made the change on your own. Let me know what you guys come up with.”
Holbrook replied saying that she was having legal advisers consult with them to avoid any First Amendment issues.
“Last thing I want to do is inadvertently cause controversy,” she said.
“You are a state-owned entity,” Schultz replied, saying that the bus was paid for with taxpayer dollars and the First Amendment wouldn’t apply.
“Whoever made the decision to move forward with this bus absolutely knew it would be controversial. To quote the Speaker, ‘We live in Utah, we shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff,'” he continued, making an apparent reference to Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.
Schultz later told KSL NewsRadio what he meant by “this stuff” was state entities “jumping into things that are so controversial.”
“Absolutely not was I referring to (LGBTQ people) as stuff,” he said.
Schultz concluded telling Holbrook a group of Republicans wanted UTA to issue a formal apology for the bus.
“I just want the problem solved ASAP so we don’t have to go down this road,” he said.
UTA spokesman Carl Arky said on Friday the bus would be replaced with one of 20 new Gillig electric buses during the Pride Parade, which he said would be a good opportunity to highlight the new clean-air vehicles.
Arky released another statement Tuesday, saying UTA “reaffirms its unwavering dedication” to its mission and that it understands the “importance of actively engaging with our diverse community.”
“We want to make it clear that it was never our intention to offend or disappoint any member of the communities we serve, including our valued employees,” the statement said. “UTA remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting all the diverse communities across our service areas.”
Several other lawmakers texted their concerns to Holbrook and UTA Board Chairman Carlton Christensen last week.
“This is not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, and really doesn’t help us feel like tax dollars are being maximized,” Pierucci texted Christensen on Thursday.
“I was disappointed to see UTA putting wraps around their equipment supporting a controversial social position that is very (divisive),” Christofferson said in a text the same day to Holbrook and board member Jeff Acerson. “Why spend the funds and political capital on this effort? What other social issues have you not supported, but now are supporting this? I am shaking my head at this decision.”
Jack said he was “very disappointed to see the rainbow wraps on the UTA vehicles,” in a text chain with Schultz, Christofferson and UTA Government Relations Director Shule Bishop on Thursday. “I think public funds should never be used to promote private agendas, especially those that contradict our state ideals.”
It’s unclear whether the bus with pride livery is still in regular circulation or if the rainbow livery will be removed.
After the release of the text chain on Tuesday, Schultz said in a statement that state authorities should refrain from using taxpayer assets for purposes besides fulfilling their mission.
Pierucci and Christofferson said as members of the Interim Transportation Committee, they both reached out to UTA about the bus.
“As a member of the Interim Transportation Committee, I am constantly advocating for increased frequency and access for the southwest corner of the valley,” Pierucci said in a statement. “Riverton and Herriman have zero bus stops. I reached out to UTA questioning whether this was the best use of taxpayer dollars and the best way to maximize the state’s transportation budget. The UTA is a public entity and should focus on its mission of getting people from point A to point B.”
Christofferson added, “As chair of the Interim Transportation Committee, it is my responsibility to ensure Utah’s transportation and transit needs are met. I voiced my concerns to UTA and encouraged them to responsibly utilize and maximize taxpayer dollars and focus on moving Utahns across the state.”
Wilson said that Utah has “big opportunities to embrace and big challenges to overcome” and that he is hopeful that “moving forward UTA will stick to its core mission of moving Utahns.”
Contributing: Lindsay Aerts, KSL NewsRadio