10 questions with Daisy Thomas

In March 2018, I had the privilege to interview Daisy Thomas for “10 questions.” Thomas is chair of the Utah Democratic Party.

Kurt Manwaring: At the University of Florida, you pursued an education in Religious Studies and even served on an Interfaith Council. In what ways have those experiences prepared you to lead the Utah Democratic Party and communicate with Utahns?

Daisy Thomas: I was raised in a Jewish home with my mother and stepfather and in a Catholic home with my father.

I studied Religion because I have always believed it to be key to understanding and building communities.

The first thing you realize in studying religion is that there is a lot of disagreement within any faith about nearly everything to do with it, even among the scholars. So you very quickly learn that there is more power in commonality than in differences.

There are roughly 4,200 religions in the world and the interfaith dialogue that results when we bring those communities together is how we find commonalities.

The same principal goes for Democrats and building bridges into the various groups that make up our big tent party.


Kurt Manwaring: When you were younger, did you ever envision yourself becoming so involved with formal politics? How does your current involvement align with or differ from what you imagined for yourself as an undergraduate?

Daisy Thomas: When I was a little girl, my grandma would bring me to events for Jane Byrne, Chicago’s first and only female mayor. You could say that sparked my interest in politics.

When I was in middle school I started advocating for Filipino WWII soldiers who had been promised full veteran benefits that the US failed to deliver after the war.

In college I was Political Director of the Asian Student Union and led our GOTV efforts. As an undergrad, I assumed I would eventually move into academia and become a Religion professor.

Like a lot of people, I landed in politics as an extension of the organizing I was doing for issues I cared about.

I never envisioned leading a political party as something I would do.


Kurt Manwaring: How many female chairs have there been in the history of the Utah Democratic Party? Do you feel being a woman in a prominent political position sets an example for young girls?

Daisy Thomas: As far as I am aware, there has been only one other woman to chair the party, the amazing Meg Holbrook — who incidentally was the first woman chair for any party in Utah’s history.

I know for a fact that young girls look up to the women legislators we have on the hill. Last year during session, my five year-old daughter asked electeds to sign her Legislative Guide Book so she could match them to their picture. All but one of her signers were women.

But unfortunately it’s not just young girls that need an example.

This year I have a three-month old who comes with me everywhere, including session. And to a lot of people that is a positive example, because the expectation is that women should stay home with their children, which helps explain why we have such a shamefully low level of female representation in the legislature.


Kurt Manwaring: Millennials are active in politics but feel less inclined than previous generations to become affiliated with a party. What would you say to a millennial who agrees with your platform but is leaning towards remaining unaffiliated?

Daisy Thomas: I would tell them that being a left-leaning voter in Utah is a tremendous opportunity to do something radical within the Democratic party, because it’s simply not big or monolithic enough to stop you.

I moved to Utah in 2015 and became chair of the Democratic Party in 2017. And I did that by advocating the principles that would lead many people to remain unaffiliated.

In county parties — even in Salt Lake County — you can be a central figure in the party simply by showing up and doing the work.

Strictly speaking, you don’t have to be a registered Democrat to work the party or even to run for office as a Democrat.

But if you believe that the quickest route to real political change is by changing the course of one of our major political parties, the Utah Democratic Party is one of the best places in the country to do so.


Kurt Manwaring: As party chair, you visit Utahns throughout the state. What is one issue or concern you have come across that does not get the news coverage you think it should?

Daisy Thomas: Rural infrastructure investment. There are far too many areas of Utah that don’t have adequate transportation, health care access, modernized schools, broadband access, etc.

Homelessness and generational poverty extends far beyond Operation Rio Grande in Salt Lake City.

I want to see small towns thrive again.


Kurt Manwaring: In the spirit of Alan Alda’s “flame challenge,” could you describe what it means to be a member of your party in a way a child could understand?

Daisy Thomas: Think about a bully taking a kid’s lunch money. If the kid is all alone, the bully can shove him around and take his lunch money. But if 10 kids stand together, they can protect each other and stop the bully from taking anyone’s lunch money. Together they’re stronger than they are when they’re each alone. The Democratic Party is like that for grown-up bullies. We have bullies like Paul Ryan, who wants to take away hungry people’s lunch money, and take away sick people’s money for the doctor, and take away grandparent’s money. The Democratic Party stands together with the hungry people and the sick people and the grandparents, and we do it together because if we were all alone the bullies would win.


Kurt Manwaring: What is one reason Mitt Romney would make a good representative of Utah and what is one reason why your candidate would be the better choice?

Daisy Thomas: I’m not sure I can name any Massachusetts governors who would be good representatives of Utah. The way Romney has sucked up to Trump after positioning himself as a voice for decency makes him a bad representative not just of Utah, but of vertebrates in general.

I should mention the Republicans have several other candidates running for the nomination, and I hope they respect their state enough not to be used as an empty politician’s consolation prize.

The Democratic Party also has multiple candidates vying for our nomination. I have met with them and while they have differences in their political beliefs and goals, they have what Romney sorely lacks — the courage of their convictions.


Kurt Manwaring: Mormons make up a significant percentage of voters in Utah. What are one or two issues you feel are important to Mormons right now and how will your party or candidate address them?

Daisy Thomas: Mormons care deeply for family and want to ensure their kids have opportunities for success in life. Utah Democrats believe that in order for our kids to have those opportunities, we need to invest in them.

We believe in equal funding for schools regardless of ZIP code, which means all Utah kids would have access to high quality education regardless of where they live.

And we believe that healthcare is a right and a necessity for children.

We will continue to fight for expanded Medicaid, which the Republican party has rejected for frivolous political reasons despite its terrible cost to sick children.


Kurt Manwaring: Politics in America is more vitriolic and partisan than it has been in generations. Could you offer a few thoughts on the role of civility in political campaigns and communications?

Daisy Thomas: I think the focus has to be on real issues debated on tangible terms, which leads to a real civility and not just the political correctness of avoiding contentious topics.

A good example is the stark difference between the Democratic and Republican primaries in 2016.

The Democrats had a very contentious primary, but it was civil: we forcefully debated healthcare, the minimum wage, gun control, trade policy, wealth inequality, and even Henry Kissinger’s disastrous foreign policy. There was a lot of substance and an elevation of the national dialog on these topics.

The Republican primary was about calling each other names, insulting each others’ wives, and making jokes about each others’ genitals. It was disgusting, and it happened because their candidates had no real ideas about how to actually address the problems facing Americans.


Kurt Manwaring: Why is the Utah Democratic Party the best solution for Utah voters in the 2018 Senate election?

Daisy Thomas: We’re offering concrete, clear solutions to problems that Republicans have ignored.

Expanded Medicaid. A living wage. The right to form or join a union.

These aren’t buzzwords or cheap political talk; they’re clear policies with a real impact on people’s lives.

And this stuff isn’t just in our platform, it’s what I talk about with voters, with donors, with county chairs, with volunteers, with prospective candidates, and with sitting legislators.

We’ve thrown out the rulebook that says to make vague promises and go after big donor checks because we know there’s a lot of lost trust that must be earned back the hard way.

I’m using my time here to elevate groups and individuals who are at the center of the most pressing issues facing Utahns and putting them in positions of real power to bring real change. That’s something Utahns can count on, and I want as many people as possible to show up this election to make a statement that politics in Utah has changed.

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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