Steve Griffin, Deseret News
House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, right, and House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, congratulate each other at the end of the 2019 Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Our legislative session just ended and as the minority leader in the state House of Representatives, I want Utahns to be aware of the work of Democrats that serve all Utahns in various important ways. Democrats are in the minority in the House and Senate. But we are vital in pulling the debates back toward the middle, finding common ground and sticking to our principles. This is the three-legged stool for Democratic success. It’s how Democrats help move the Legislature toward stability and accountability.

Democrats work hard to be the voice of the people. We fought to maintain the voter-approved initiatives and fought against changes to our tax structure concocted without public input.

Unfortunately, many important policy discussions occur behind closed doors. Republican-only legislative meetings tend to pull decisions about policy further and further to the right. But the majority of Utahns do not live or think on the extremes of the political spectrum, so it is vital that Democrats weigh in for balance.

As that counterweight, Democrats doggedly opposed the majority on their plan to repeal and replace Proposition 3 for expanding Medicaid. Last November, most voters made clear Proposition 3 is what they wanted. The alternative the majority party wanted for Proposition 3 and that eventually passed and was signed into law was a bad move. It covers fewer Utahns and at greater costs to Utah taxpayers. Although Democrats realized we lacked sufficient votes to defeat that bill, we spoke for most voters. As a result, we pushed the majority to accept concessions on their bill, such as a backstop to provide full Medicaid expansion in the case that the Trump administration refused to grant Utah a waiver for its “skinny” Medicaid expansion.

Democrats work hard, and are usually successful, in finding common ground with our majority colleagues. This year between the House and Senate Democrats, we passed 78 bills of the 137 we introduced, making for a 57 percent pass rate. The overall pass rate for the Legislature this session was 68 percent.

How do we do it? Sometimes it takes years of leading on bipartisan issues to find agreeable solutions, such as with air quality and domestic violence legislation. On issues like education, health care, and criminal justice, Democrats are effective at both working closely with constituents and partnering across the aisle. We find consensus in ways that make Utah operate a little fairer and little better every year.

Finally, Democrats stick to principles. This year we sponsored a number of high-profile bills that were supported by most Utahns, but not by most of our Republican colleagues. Unfortunately, the majority opposed a popular bill to curb distracted driving with cell phones, as well as several bills that would have reduced gun violence, reduced our teen suicides and improved the ability of working families to make ends meet. We pushed forward with legislation that reflects the will of our constituents who elected us.

2 comments on this story

All of this brings me to tax reform. We do face a structural budget problem. But it is not one Utahns fully understand. As state leaders, we’ve done a poor job explaining the issue. And constantly highlighting the good health of the economy without explaining why our budget needs revamping adds to the confusion. The beginning of understanding the problem is this: Our sales tax revenue, which funds most of our state budget other than public and higher education, is shrinking relative to the costs of essential services. Very soon we will not be able to put in place a balanced budget unless we come up with new revenue.

Democrats want to hear from you on any future changes to Utah’s tax structure. Tax reform will affect every person, family, and business in the state. Everyone should be heard. We want to continue to be your voice moving forward. We’ll continue to pull the discussion toward pragmatic, principled solutions; find common ground; and never stop advocating for Utah’s values.