SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of angry emails — some one lawmaker said are too vicious and profane to discuss publicly — did not deter a committee of legislators Monday from advancing legislation to rename a southern Utah highway in honor of President Donald Trump.
The measure by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, would rename the National Parks Highway the Donald J. Trump Utah National Parks Highway in recognition of Trump's impact on rural Utah and public lands.
HB481, advanced on a 9-2 vote, would replace the Utah National Parks Highway, which includes sections of U.S. 89, I-15, U.S. 191 as well as parts of southern Utah roads that trace the edges of some of Utah's national parks.
Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, hopes to derail the bill, which appears to be on a fast track to passing, on the House floor. She has a substitute bill to rename the route the Jon M. Huntsman Sr. Memorial Utah National Parks Highway. The billionaire industrialist/philanthropist died last last month.
Noel's bill has drawn widespread criticism from Democrats and environmental groups, and just as much support from rural county commissioners and some young conservative Republicans.
"We could not be more in favor of this," said Natalie Callahan, with the Utah Young Republicans.
Noel said his measure honors a U.S. president who delivered on his promises, recognizing states' rights and rural voices when he acted last December to drastically shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments.
"This is a president who actually delivered on his promises. He has done great things for the state of Utah," Noel said.
Critics are dumfounded at the proposal and say it is an affront. Environmental groups and Native American tribes are suing over the boundary reductions and Trump, along with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, are routinely accused of carrying out the most destructive attack on public lands in modern history.
Ashley Soltysiak, chapter director of the Utah Sierra Club, urged the bill's defeat.
"We do not believe this is in the interest of all Utahns," she said, citing what she describes as the administration's massive attack on public lands.
Wendy Garvin, with the Utah Progressive Caucus, said the designation is inappropriate because Trump fosters division in the country and stressed she doesn't believe people will be willing to drive on the highway.
Critics also say the new signs bearing Trump's name would be victims of repeated vandalism.
But longtime rancher Stanton Gleave, from Piute County, told the committee he supports Trump 100 percent.
"He's done more for this area than any other U.S. president."
Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, said the committee discussion over the measure on Monday featured some "really good comments" from both sides. He noted he would have been in favor of no monuments at all.
"I see a lot of the action of President Trump of coming in and really being a broker for both sides. I think this is one of his great compromises."