In March 2018, I had the privilege to interview Richard Davis for “10 questions.” Davis is chair of the United Utah Party.
Kurt Manwaring: Welcome! Before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got interested in politics?
Richard Davis: I have been interested in politics since I was a college student. I worked on campaigns then and have done so periodically since then. My interest over many years has been in electing good people to office who will find solutions to problems.
Kurt Manwaring: Both of your graduate degrees are from Syracuse University. Could you tell us what led you to choose Syracuse and how your experiences there continue to influence you?
Richard Davis: I also have a masters degree in Communications from BYU. I chose Syracuse University because my research specialty has been political communication.
At that time (the 1980s), there were few scholars doing research in that area. Three of them, however, were at Syracuse. One of them became my dissertation advisor and friend. He now teaches at Harvard, but we have stayed in touch and even published together.
Syracuse launched me on a successful research career in political communication that I have pursued for many years.
Kurt Manwaring: You flirted with the idea of forming a new political party for quite a while before United Utah Party. Was there a specific catalyst that led you from thinking about forming the party to forming it?
Richard Davis: The 2016 campaign was a pivotal moment because it demonstrated that the Republican Party had become far removed from what many Republicans thought the party stood for.
Similarly, many Democrats were turned off by Hillary Clinton.
However, beyond the specific candidates, the campaign also showed how extreme both parties had become – at both the national and state levels. The respective party bases were pushing more extreme solutions, less willing to work together, and threatening to punish any elected official from their party who dared to work with the other side.
This is not just true at the national level.
The GOP-dominated legislature in Utah passes bills or resolutions attempting to overturn the right of citizens to vote for their own senators, seeks to take over federal public lands and all the incumbent costs of managing those lands when it cannot find the money to support our schools, refuses to act on clean air measures, and fails to pass gun control laws that would uphold the Second Amendment and enhance the safety of Utah’s citizens.
That is not to mention the unwillingness to adequately fund the education of our children, which has driven the state to last place in education funding, while spouting continued empty rhetoric of support for public education.
In addition, a one-party system, as Utah has, invariably leads to arrogance.
Arrogance means an unwillingness to answer to the citizens and a tendency away from transparency and towards non-disclosure of what the legislature is doing.
There is a reason so many initiatives have been proposed this year. Voters are tired of a legislature that is unresponsive to public will. Policy should be passed by the legislature and the governor.
But when they will not act because they feel most responsive to a small group of party delegates and activists and will not follow the general public’s will, what can be done except to bypass the legislature?
The United Utah Party is a fresh approach to Utah and national politics. We want to turn around the growing disgust with politics that voters feel. We want to help voters come back into the system to make the difference only they can make. We believe the majority of Utahns (and Americans) are more centrist and less extreme than the party activists, and their involvement will bring policy back to the center.
But we need to reform the political process to bring back the reasonable people in the process and not just the extremists.
That means term limits to create more competition and less arrogance, an independent redistricting commission to remove the power of redistricting from the politicians and give it to an independent group, more non-partisan offices such as county offices and the state school board to weaken the power of the Republicans and the Democrats to control these offices, open primary elections and not the closed ones that Republicans use and then expect the taxpayers to pay for, and stricter campaign finance laws to limit how much an individual or a corporation can give to a Utah candidate or elected official.
Kurt Manwaring: During the 2016 presidential campaign, there was a significant period of time in which it looked like Evan McMullin might actual win Utah’s electoral votes as an independent. In what ways does the headway made by McMullin signal an opportunity for the United Utah Party as a third party?
Richard Davis: The 21 percent of the vote Evan McMullin won showed that voters would vote for someone other than the candidates presented by the two major parties. That was the highest percentage for a non-major party presidential candidate in any state since 1992. So, clearly Utahns are ready for an alternative.
We now provide an alternative for a host of races – federal, state, and county – that offers Utahns a chance to change politics for the better. The United Utah Party is the alternative voters are looking for.
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?
Richard Davis: The disengagement of so many Utahns from the process of their own governance. Fifty years ago, Utah had the highest voter turnout in the nation. We were a model for other states. That strong engagement by Utah voters fit our image of citizens who cared about their government and got involved to make a difference.
Today, we are ninth lowest from the bottom. Too many Utahns have checked out of participation in the political process. They don’t believe voting in a general election matters.
And they are right – as Utah is now. The lack of competition in the state in general elections is appalling. Too often the decision is made at a convention or primary, which excludes the majority of voters.
By the time the general election comes, the decision-making process is over. That is a reality that desperately needs to be changed.
The United Utah Party wants to re-engage Utahns by offering a party that avoids the extremism of the two major parties, favors civility in political discourse rather than the toxic and personal rhetoric used by so many politicians today, seeks practical rather than partisan solutions to the problems of the state and the nation, wants to offer real competition at the general election level rather than competition in the conventions and party primaries that cuts out most of the voters, and reforms the system in the ways I mentioned above so our government is tilted more towards the voters and less towards the politicians.
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?
Richard Davis: The United Utah Party is the hope of the future for our political system. When you see adults arguing, you wonder why they can’t just reason with each other and come to a solution. That is the Republican and Democratic parties, and that happens because they are run by people who like to call each other names, refuse to listen to each other, and won’t work together for the common good. The United Utah Party is the party for those who are willing to listen to both sides, see good in some of what the Democrats are saying and in some of what the Republicans are saying, and seek to work out compromises that help everyone. We also are the party that wants to bring people back to voting and trying to make a difference in our government.
Kurt Manwaring: Did you ever consider asking Mitt Romney to run on the United Utah Party ticket?
Richard Davis: Yes, we have asked Mitt Romney if he would consider running on our ticket. Considering how the Republicans have treated him (and still treat him), we wondered why he would want to be a Republican. When Governor Romney was in public office in Massachusetts, he was known as someone who would work with others, seek moderate solutions, and find common ground. We thought that approach fit with our party.
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?
Richard Davis: We do not have an announced candidate for the United Utah Party for the U.S. Senate seat yet.
When we do, his/her approach will not be to claim Romney would not be a good U.S. senator. Rather, the main message will be that anyone who is elected from either of the two major parties will have to answer to party activists who are extreme.
Unfortunately, that includes Mitt Romney.
On the other hand, a United Utah Party candidate will be able to represent the voters as a whole and work with both Democrats and Republicans to find common sense solutions to the nation’s problems. It will be easy for a UUP candidate to disagree with President Trump when he is wrong. It will be harder for a Republican senator to do so.
Beyond that, a United Utah Party candidate as U.S. senator will demonstrate that Utah is leading the way in rejecting the extremism of the two major parties and seeking to find a way out of our partisan bickering and gridlock that dominates national politics today. It will be hard for a Republican or a Democrat to do that. Utah can be a model once again for seeking a new, fresh perspective to our national problems.
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?
Richard Davis: Many Latter-day Saints are disgusted by the way President Trump campaigns and governs. They want to return to more civility and more decency among our political leaders.
They also want a compassionate society. Immigration policy today is not compassionate. Not only is the Trump administration blocking Muslim refugees, but it also is significantly reducing the number of new immigrants into the United States. Families are unable to be joined together again because of new immigration policies.
Also, those policies lead to the active breaking up of families as people who have been in the U.S. for years are deported rather than given a chance to gain legal status.
Perhaps even worse, young people (termed “dreamers”) who came to the U.S. as children face the prospect of deportation because the president and Congress will not pass legislation allowing them to stay.
This whole approach is antithetical to the emphasis on family values that most LDS Church members want from their government.
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?
Richard Davis: I have mentioned that above. The United Utah Party wants to bring back civility by running on issues, not personalities.
We feel voters deserve candidates who will point out the issue positions of their opponents that contrast with what they claim or what the voters want, but we do not believe it is right to make a campaign personal.
The name calling, opposition research on personal lives, and degradation of others turns off many voters.
Both major parties are to blame. And, despite rhetoric saying they will stop, they do not do so.
One reason is the pressure placed on major party candidates by their party activists to lambaste and malign others. These activists listen to MSNBC or Fox News or liberal or conservative talk radio hosts or online bloggers or people who post outrageous content on Facebook. They repeat this garbage to candidates and elected officials and threaten to vote against them in the next primary if they don’t share that rhetoric.
The way out of this incivility is for those who seek common ground to stand up and be counted. Join the United Utah Party and break the cycle of incivility.
Kurt Manwaring: Why is the Utah United Party the best solution for Utah voters in the 2018 Senate election?
Richard Davis: The United Utah Party is the way forward through the thicket of partisan extremism and gridlock. It is the party of civility, cooperation, and problem solving. Without having to answer to the extremist partisan bases that favor conflict and hatred, United Utah Party elected officials can satisfy the needs of Utah voters who want pragmatic solutions and not more finger-pointing.
By supporting United Utah Party candidates across the state, Utahns can signal they want something better than the gridlock and arrogance they now get. That message will ring loud and clear not only within the halls of the Utah state capitol, but also across the nation.