Updated: Jun 30
Back before the middle of the Clinton era, I was a 'typical' Utahn. In other words, I was born and raised here and am an active Latter-day Saint, so of course, I had to vote Republican. I didn't really give it much thought, it just 'was'. Going into the booth and 'pulling the elephant' every two years was about the extent of my civic engagement.
There were a few chinks in the armor. Bill Orton was a relative (his mom's an Olsen from Young Ward in rural Cache Valley), and I liked him. The Blue Dogs in Congress which Bill belonged to seemed to be a common-sense bunch. And Bill was repeatedly elected in a conservative district; heck, my father in law in Springville actually voted for him, probably the only Democrat to hold that distinction. But Bill was an obvious 'outlier'; most Democrats didn't share my values. Or so I thought.
A number of experiences got me thinking. One of the first I remember was a news report of a Republican convention in southern Utah. What made the news about this meeting was that Mike Leavitt, a Republican governor, was greeted with boos by the Republican gathering when he got up to speak. I recall the next day sitting in the car at Wal-Mart, waiting for my wife to do some shopping and listening to Doug Wright on the radio. Doug asked anyone who was at that meeting to call and explain why a Republican governor with a 75% approval rating was booed by the delegates. Boy, did he get a response; many delegates called in. Their responses had two main themes: the 75% included Democrats and independents, and who gives a rat's behind what they think; and furthermore, we delegates understand the issues better than average Utahns and therefore our judgment should carry greater weight.
I remember how shocked I was at that attitude: Who do those people think they are? My angel mother taught me the importance of humility. She has a dry sense of humor, and used it to reinforce much of what she taught us. One of those lessons: "Always remember, Steve, the 11th Commandment is the most important - Thou shalt not take thyself too damn seriously." It was clear those who called into Doug Wright's show didn't get the 11th commandment. Subsequent events, such as the rebellion by Republican delegates over any attempt to interfere with their exclusive power to choose Utah's elected leaders prove they haven't changed.
I remember another anecdote that happened about the same time. I was driving to Brigham City in the afternoon for a meeting, and by habit, had the radio tuned to KSL. Back then, it was Sean Hannity, every day, all afternoon. I wasn't paying that much attention, but enough that a thought came: You're wasting your time. After 15 minutes listening to this guy, it's just repetitive after that, same song, 654th verse, no new insights at all. My radio got changed to KUER at the end of the drive, and it's stayed there ever since.
Newt Gingrich had a big influence. My mother and my Primary teachers taught me about kindness and respect for others. I still considered myself a Republican, but I just didn't like the man. He seemed flat out mean and full of himself. And during the '90's, Gingrich, Tom DeLay and other Republican leaders seemed to be much too beholden to wealthy special interests. I started to study political issues more, and became aware of Washington's K-street and the influence of money in politics. That bothered me. Still does.
I voted for George W. Bush in 2000, but two years later when my bishop read the ubiquitous letter in March about getting involved in the political process, I decided, out of curiosity, to attend the neighborhood Democratic caucus meeting in Plain City. It was held in the home of Doug and Randi Post, well-known stalwarts in the community. (It was a great tragedy when Doug and Randi were killed in a car accident in 2007. I really miss them.) I was a little nervous, not knowing what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised when lots of other people I knew were there. That's an emotion all new Democrats in Utah experience: Wow, I didn't know there were so many of us!
Well, the rest is history. One cool thing about being a Utah Democrat: if you want to be a county and state delegate, there is plenty of room for you, and I took advantage of the opportunity. That evening in Doug and Randi's home was a turning point in my life. There were still many questions, but as I studied the issues, it became clear that the values of Utah Democrats were more in line with the values my mother and Primary teachers taught me than the other guys. When you get past the shouting of slogans at each other, that's even true with issues like abortion and gay rights. Don't believe me?......
Here's a challenge to my fellow Utahns who think you're Republican: How much thought have you really given to which side represents your values? Do you simply listen to what Fox News has to say about us, or have you talked to a Utah Democrat about our values? Is there a chance you are just like I was; pulling the elephant out of habit rather than conviction? Especially in the era of Trump, it's a fair question, and an important one. What have you got to lose? Come, check us out, and you may find what I and thousands of others have found: This is home.