What’s the Deal with the UTDems Convention?

We all know about the importance of balance in our personal lives: eating a balanced diet can keep us healthy, and achieving work-life balance can keep us happy. And while we may not talk about it as much, it turns out that balance is important in public life, too.

Balance in government, specifically, means that a variety of voices get to weigh in. It’s not all up to one person, or one group, or one political party. When citizens have the opportunity to hear from a range of viewpoints, it sets the stage for a more effective and inclusive state government.

In Utah, where almost half the voters are registered as Republican, it’s often up to the Democratic Party to provide an alternative viewpoint. That goal will be in focus on Saturday, June 17, when the Utah Democratic Party’s State Organizing Convention is scheduled to be held at Weber State University in Ogden. Beginning at 8 a.m. with caucus meetings, the full convention will be called to order at noon for the election of officers and approval of a new platform. While only delegates will be allowed to vote, the public is welcome to stop by for a close-up look at democracy in action.

There has, in fact, been a lot of action – and activity, and activism – in Utah’s Democratic Party this year, according to current Utah Democratic Party Chair Peter Carroon. “Donald Trump was an awakening for the average citizen that they need to be engaged,” Carroon said in a recent interview with UtahPolicy.com. That engagement has led to increases in volunteers, donations, and attendance at party events, he said.

It has also led to an increase in the number of candidates for Carroon’s seat, now that he is stepping down. The nine candidates for chair of the party this years are Nadia Bowman, Leonardo Gutierrez, Neil Hansen, Rob Miller, Ed Schwartz, Sarah Scott, Daisy Thomas, Julianne Waters and Archie Williams. Due to allegations of misconduct and backlash among the party, Rob Miller recently dropped out of the race. 

The winning candidate will be in charge of an ambitious new platform to be approved at the event. The platform, which took over a year to write and included public input, covers 31 issues including animal rights, disability, cybersecurity, LGBTQ, transportation, seniors and veterans.

It is in this platform that alternative voices are most clearly heard. While the Utah Republican Party platform calls for the reversal of any national-monument designation not approved by Congress, for example, the Democratic platform notes the benefits of recreation and tourism for Utah’s economy and stands firm in opposing “any and all reduction to lands designated as National Monuments.”

The platform also defines the party’s position on issues including:

  • Children – opposes deportations that separate families; advocates universal preschool/childcare
  • Climate Change – supports efforts “to substantially cut emission of greenhouse gasses and develop clean energy incentives to wean Utah off of fossil fuels in favor of clean alternatives, such as wind or solar”
  • Economy – supports a progressive income tax while opposing any increase in sales tax on food
  • Education – would eliminate government funding for “predatory non-profit schools,” create and expand student debt-relief programs, and oppose using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers
  • Election reform – supports creation of “an independent, nonpartisan Commission to designate Congressional and State District boundaries to eliminate gerrymandering”; elimination of electronic voting machines that do not allow for a paper trail; expanding vote-by-mail to the entire state; offering same-day registration and voting
  • Healthcare – supports coverage regardless of preexisting conditions; negotiating pharmaceutical prices; expanding Medicaid; maintaining mental-health benefits
  • Women’s Rights – affirms “that pro-choice is equally capable of meaning the choice to have a child, and requires that society care for the resulting needs of a woman and her child”; supports women’s access to safe health-care services, and equality in pay for women

Another interesting item to watch will be who the Democrats choose as their nominee for the Congressional District 3 Special Election. There are three Democrats running and only one of them will be nominated. However, there is the chance that one or both of the others may appear on the primary ballot if they gather enough signatures to qualify. For more information on the special election, read our blog post here.

In Utah, over 80 percent of our state legislators are Republican and almost 40 percent of voters are “unaffiliated” (but do not generally view themselves as independents). While the Democratic party may be small in number, making up only about 11 percent of registered voters, it adds a vital counterpoint in debates on public policy. Without it, political discourse in Utah could be reduced to an exercise in preaching to the converted – or in other words, unbalanced.

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