Democrats a better fit for LDS Utahns, state party leader tells students

LOGAN—While the Utah Republican Party is busy running campaigns for Senate and Congress, Utah Democrats are running a simpler campaign: they just want members. And then maybe some of those members can run for office and maybe after a couple of tries (and a cultural revolution), they might win.This was the basic game plan laid out by Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis during a recent visit to Utah State. It was billed as a “late lunch” with college Democrats to discuss the party’s future in Utah and what role students can play in it.”The Democratic Party is full of diversity—we’re like a big, open tent. We’ll take everyone,” Dabakis said. “But we’ve forgotten to reach out to LDS people. We need to tell them, ‘Hey, we want your energy and enthusiasm and guess what? we line up with your ideals.’”About 71 percent of Utah residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dabakis said, but only 9 percent of church members self-identify as Democrats.”We’ve got to make the case that the Democratic Party aligns better with LDS values,” Dabakis said. “We actually care about people, we have compassion, we think of people as real people—not as customers for big banks.”Dabakis said that, as the Tea Party in Utah continues to pull the Republican Party to more extreme positions on education and other social services, Utahns will look elsewhere to find a party that better represents their values.”We’ve got to show Utahns that Democrats are the kind of people that can solve all kinds of problems,” he said. “We are not ideologues. With the Tea Party, ideology trumps everything. We forget ideology, and in a common sense way, solve problems.”Aaron Holladay, one of those rare Mormon Democrats, said he was impressed with Dabakis.”He addresses the fundamental question [of] how to interact with LDS members,” said Holladay, an international relations student. “I can’t figure out why they [LDS members] are so disenchanted with Democrats. I think Democratic values line up better with LDS values—that’s why I got involved.”But Justin Hinh, president of USU’s College Libertarians, said that’s not necessarily the case. Hinh, who attends political events for fun, says each side demonizes the other for having a different approach.”But I think for all parties, their approach is to help others—both Democrats and Republicans believe their system helps the most people,” Hinh said. “But I think my system helps better. So to say Republicans and Libertarians don’t care about people like Democrats do, that’s not true.”For Dabakis, however, it’s more than just caring about people that makes his party the right choice. “Democrats have the good stuff,” he said, explaining that Utah Democrats are concerned with education, health care and open and honest government.Which was Dabakis’s second order of business: convincing college students to run for public office.”We need you,” he said. “It’s better to start at 21 and lose two or three times that to start at 60 and lose two or three times.”And don’t give me this, ‘I’m not smart enough, I’m not qualified enough,’” Dabakis said. “Look at our Legislature and you will be surprised just how smart and how qualified you really are.”Jason Williams, of Cache Valley radio station KVNU’s For the People radio show, attended the event and said he was an example “that the odds can be beaten: I’m a progressive Democrat on talk radio in Utah.”Dabakis lamented the small number of Democrats currently serving in the Utah Legislature, most of whom hail from Salt Lake County. “If all the Democrats in the Legislature went to Wendover during the session, it would still go on,” he said.During the controversial recent special session called to redraw legislative districts—which is required by law every 10 years after the U.S. Census—Utah Democrats certainly wanted to go to Wendover, Dabakis said.After months of what a “dog and pony show,” where legislators sought public input and purchased software to allow Utah residents to go online and draw their own maps for new legislative districts, Dabakis said the October special session was closed to the public and all that research was thrown out the window.But Utah Democrats didn’t head off to Wendover. “We were determined to expose the Republicans for what they were doing,” he said. “We were going to make them face up to the fact that they weren’t being honest to the state.”

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