July is the month we celebrate citizenship and patriotism and pioneers and other soul-stirring recollections of our great heritage.
But Utah held an election not long ago, and fewer citizens showed up to vote than show up at college football games on a typical Saturday afternoon in September. It's another indication of how badly broken the political system is in Utah...and in other states, as well.
First, the dominant political party moved primary elections to late June, a time when voters have their minds on everything but elections. To add insult to that injury, the dominant political party made primary elections closed elections. Voters must declare party affiliation before they are allowed to vote. Utah voters don't like being forced into party affiliation; they don't trust political parties to protect confidentiality; and they don't understand why party loyalty is a prerequisite for voting. Utahns may favor one political party, but many think of themselves as independent, and they resent being forced into a political pledge of allegiance.
Second, both political parties indulge in name-calling, especially those party leaders most likely to be quoted. Their rhetoric categorizes political opponents as not simply mistaken but evil. If politicians call opponents evil, then debate and compromise become weaknesses, not strengths. Gone are the days of rational discourse and personal respect.
Third, the dominant political party put in place a system of school board elections that allowed as many as 15 candidates to be on the ballot for a single office. Party leaders had neither the courage nor the good sense to give voters a reasonably limited list of candidates. The purpose was clearly to spread votes so that candidates selected by party leadership had a better chance of winning.
Fourth, leaders of the dominant political party are so vindictive toward a popular governor (of their own party) that they advanced a candidate for treasurer who was clearly not qualified but would favor legislative leadership over public interest. The pre-election squabbling confused some voters and angered others. (Fortunately, the political maneuvering did not work in this case.)
Fifth, the so-called "grass-roots nominating process" of neighborhood caucus meetings has been compromised by power brokers of the dominant political party. Caring citizens who attend neighborhood caucuses but question the predetermined outcome are ignored, ridiculed and marginalized.
Sixth, many voters believe leaders of the dominant political party will use any tactics to advance their narrow agendas. Voters point to the bizarre experience with the twin voucher bills in last year's Legislature and to the leadership's Christmas tree education bill pushed through at the last moment in this year's session.
Seventh, voters throughout the state were shocked when an unpopular and embarrassing lawmaker escaped a primary runoff by one vote during the state convention of the dominant political party. Some are convinced there was considerable pushing and pulling behind the scenes in order to avoid what would surely have been an awkward primary campaign.
Eighth, many critical decisions at the Legislature are made in closed-door caucus meetings of the dominant political party. As a result, voters feel their voices are no longer relevant. Political leaders who are unsure of themselves and their ideas often resort to secrecy and backroom arm-twisting.
Ninth, tactics used by legislative leaders to secure tax subsidies for a new soccer stadium added to voter distrust.
Tenth, a bill pushed through by powerful interest groups made it too easy to split school districts. This tactic told large groups of voters that their interests are not of much concern to legislative leaders.
There was a time when political leaders listened to their constituents more than they listened to special-interest lobbyists. There was a time when political leaders from both parties talked to one another, worked out compromises and avoided public name-calling. There was a time when decisions affecting the state and its people were discussed in open meetings and when the news media had access to legislators on all sides of every issue.
Sadly, those principles are ignored by leaders who claim to know what's best without the benefit of legislative debate or public discussion.
No wonder voters are disillusioned. No wonder they stay away from the polls.No wonder they grieve over the lack of great men and great ideas men and ideas such as those we honor this month.
G. Donald Gale is president of Words, Words, Words Inc. He wrote and delivered 6,000 editorials for KSL Radio and Television. E-mail: [email protected]