(Updated note: I would like to say that I find this to be an issue with Democrats in the Salt Lake County and not from other counties. Democrats in other counties seem to actually want to move the party forward.)
Back in July, I was looking for a political job, particularly in Utah. I used to be the national committeeman for the Young Democrats of Utah and loved Democratic politics in the state because it was vibrant and productive, even in the face of steep challenges. I was so impressed with Democrats in Utah, I wrote an article about the party six years ago and recommended that the Florida Democratic Party could learn from Utah Democrats.
However, as I returned to Utah, a lot has changed, and the party structure is an absolute nightmare. To me, the glue that held the party together for so many years was the amazing Todd Taylor, the person who I respect the most in Utah Democratic politics, both past and present. But it seems like the party has gone downhill, really downhill, since his death. Therefore, I have jotted down some of the issues that I noticed in the Utah Democratic Party.
I don’t write this to make enemies, but instead to show the problems in the party. And honestly, I think it is hard for people to look in the mirror and notice their own problems, which is why it is time for someone from the outside to examine to problem through a different lens.
Problem #1: Personal rivalries are killing Utah Democrats.
In every political party there is always some sort of infighting. Still, having issues conflict within a political party isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a way for the party to grow and shake off some of the dead weight it has been carrying around for years. However, in Utah, it is different. First of all, the amount of gossip I see about other people in Utah Democratic politics is absolutely off the charts. But more seriously, it seems as if Democrats in Utah relish in the failure of other Democrats. This has led to what I see as a toxic atmosphere in the party, and the word toxic is not an overstatement.
What is even worse is that these political rivalries in the party are based solely off of personality conflicts, and not anything substantive regarding Democratic Party issues. If someone doesn’t like you, they try to bury you and then enjoy the satisfaction of trying to destroy you. This was the case with two people recently, one a sitting member of the Utah House, and one a candidate of the Utah House regarding pictures on Facebook. These games are childish and are not the type of games that are played in a mature Democratic Party. Unfortunately, many people in the party still have personal issues, and that destroys the fabric of the party.
Problem #2: Nobody is helping the party out.
I think I am the only one out there that has never criticized UDP Chair Daisy Thomas in public, or to anyone in person. Yes, I have said that I think she has jumped into the deep end with no experience, but I have never advocated her being removed as chair of the party. However, many have done just that, and continue to aim at her throat.
I don’t know why this is the case. Is this just an extension of the personality conflicts with the party that I mentioned above? If so, then nothing will change…which is why it is so important that Problem #1 is dealt with so that Utah Democrats aren’t in a constant circular firing squad. Or do people truly have a problem with the way Daisy is running the party? I think it is a combination of both.
So, I have an idea…instead of constantly criticizing the party, why don’t you call Daisy, or Alex, or Marcus, and ask this simple question; how can I help? See, everyone wants to complain about the problem but nobody wants to be part of the solution. If you truly want to build the party in the state, help Daisy become the best UDP chair that the party has ever seen. Give her the tools needed to make that dream a reality. However, it seems as if Problem #1 makes this simple task of asking “how can I help” impossible.
Problem #3: Old tricks do not work. Change it up.
Seriously, the way Democrats politics operate in Utah is so 1990s! Granted, the Republicans are not operating at a high level either, but Democrats are still stuck in dial up mode. The methods discussed about how to reach voters are so antiquated and have been proven by political science not to work. However, because we are stuck in some 1990s time warp, there is no desire to move the party past the year 2000. Many strategists and consultants in the state advocating doing the exact same thing that has been done the last 40 years. Guess what, 40 years ago I had a black and white TV, and today I can watch a live stream from the International Space Station. Seriously, move forward.
Even with this being the case, some people realize that change needs to happen, but it just isn’t happening fast enough. Once 21st Century campaign ideas are discussed, such as putting way more money into social media, then we will finally get somewhere. And the only way to run a 21st Century campaign is by raising 21st Century money. Seriously, Utah is one of the only states with no campaign finance laws. Therefore, every candidate should have loads of money in their account. But, nope, doesn’t happen. Why? 1990s.
Problem #4: Always looking for in-state losing solutions to produce wins.
This is a problem that Utah has always had…they constantly try to find talent within Utah, with this so-called talent having very little to no experience in actually winning competitive partisan elections. Outsiders are seen as, well, outsiders. However, those outsiders actually have won in other competitive states. But still, the practice of partisan nepotism is still alive and well in Utah. If the Utah Democratic Party wants to change, it needs to bring in people from other states to actually build the party. Yes, there are some people in the state who are great and understand campaigns and election, but not a lot. Bring in people with actual campaign success, and quit recycling the same people to do the same job, which always produces the same results. What is the definition of insanity again? Yep.
Problem #5: Party loyalty is being questioned.
Yes, I have a problem with one company that is getting Democratic business in Utah. And no, it has nothing to do with them personally (as I don’t know any of them). And yes, it might have a little to do with their methods of targeting (by which I mean no method at all). What I don’t like is that this company helped a Republican get on the ballot. Yes, even with Democrats in a race, they helped Republicans anyway. And elected Democratic officials, like Rebecca Chavez-Houck, recommend this company even though they are helping Republicans. It is time that Democrats actually question the loyalty of consultants who help Republicans, and Democratic officials that praise such practices.
Problem #6: End conflicts of interest.
Pure and simple, the Executive Director of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party should not be a campaign manager or adviser for any candidate, period. I didn’t think I would have to say that since it seems pretty damn obvious, but apparently I do. Democratic Party officials and staff should stay 100% neutral in primaries, and then be all in to support the Democratic nominee. These conflicts of interest can be interpreted as the party showing favor for a certain candidate in a primary, or seek to keep the field clear by having a party staffer actively helping out a candidate. But if you are someone who is paid by a political party, you just don’t do that, period.
Problem #7: Start blurring the lines of political jurisdiction.
One thing that I found pretty odd when coming to Utah is the absolutely solid lines of jurisdiction when it came which political party entity is responsible for a particular campaign. I encountered this with the Kathie Allen campaign when the Salt Lake County Democratic Party did nothing for the campaign until the last week of the campaign. Up to that point, the Salt Lake County Democratic Party’s official line to me was “that race is not our responsibility, but the responsibility of the state party”. No, not really…getting Democrats elected is the responsibility of everyone.
When doing campaigns in Orlando, the Orange County DEC was just as active in federal and state races as they were in local races. That is one of the reasons that Orange County has fostered a strong Democratic presence in Central Florida, because they work to get all Democrats elected. There were no solid black lines of party jurisdiction, but blurred lines which allowed the party to work on multiple races. This is an approach Utah needs to take.
Problem #8: Time for Hillary supporters to quit bitching about Bernie supporters.
If I don’t hear people in the party bitching about each other, I hear them bitching about supporters of Bernie Sanders. The line I always hear is that “Bernie people showed up to the caucus and have not done anything after that”. My answer….”Okay, then what is the party doing wrong to not get them involved?” If you aren’t talking about the issues that Bernie supporters want to hear about, or are constantly insulting them, then why should they get involved with the party? This is an issue regarding overall messaging, and the lack of a diversified range of issues.
But with this being the case, seriously, Hillary people have to let it go. When I talk to a Sanders supporter, they never talk about Hillary. But when I talk to a Hillary supporter, they obsess over Sanders in an unhealthy way. Seriously, let it fucking go!
Problem #9: Failure to tell the difference between party and activism.
If you are trying to prove your Trader Joe’s credentials, then activism is perfect for you. However, the Utah Democratic Party is, well, a political party, not an activist organization.
Since I have been involved with the party, it seems like activism is becoming more important. But that is not what political parties are about; they are about winning elections, pure and simple. If you are a person who wants to be involved with saving this, that, or something else, then become a member of an activist organization that is an advocate of your cause. A political party has one job, to get Democrats elected, not promote activism. And while this is a nationwide problem with Democrats, it is pumped up in Utah.
Problem #10: Some people need to be quiet or just go.
Seriously, Senator Dabakis, just be quite. It is not all about you, it is about the growth of the party. However, it seems as if your hands are always pulling some sort of lever regarding the Utah Democratic Party. Yes, you want to control the party, you do have your supporters, and you have the money to change the Democratic Party. But as Natalie Gochnour reminded you on a Both Sides of the Aisle podcast a few months ago, politics doesn’t just stop at 2100 South. The Dabakis brand will further put Democrats in a hole in Utah politics, and unfortunately it seems as if Democrats have taken the Dabakis route, even if they are unknowingly helping the Dabakis cause.
So, that only took me an hour to write, and I could have continued. However, I think this is enough for now. And even with that, this post doesn’t apply to everyone. I have met some amazing people in Utah Democratic politics, and they are all fighting the good fight. But they are few and far between, and the rot is taking over, and not gradually either.
With that being said, the biggest problem in Utah Democratic politics is easily Problem #1. The lack of professionalism and decorum, along with the vitriolic rumor mill is killing Democratic Party productivity in Utah. Once that issue is dealt with, then the party can start moving forward. But if these attitudes persist, then the party will never recover.