Rod Decker was a Utah political reporter for more than 40 years and is the author of Utah Politics: The Elephant in the Room (Signature Books, 2019).
Welcome! Before we begin, would you tell us a little bit about your background in political reporting?
I was a political reporter and columnist for eight years with the Deseret News, and a political reporter for 37 years with KUTV Channel 2.
Do you feel you have a legacy in Utah politics? What do you think it is—or hope it will be?
Journalism fades quickly. But I hope this book changes the way people look at Utah history and Utah politics, and the effect lasts for as long as people are interested in Utah.
What biases do you bring to the book?
I was raised Latter-day Saint, but have neither believed nor practiced as an adult. I voted for Johnson, Cleaver, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Dole, Bush, Obama, Romney, and Clinton.
Introduce Utah Politics: The Elephant in the Room and describe the book’s scope.
The book is Utah Politics, The Elephant in the Room.
It is political history, showing religion and public morality are crucial to Utah politics, and account for Utah’s strong Republicanism.
How did Utah’s quest for statehood begin as a fraud?
Latter-day Saints sent a statehood petition with false claims of a convention, legislature, and election which never happened. Congress didn’t detect the falsehood, but didn’t grant statehood, anyway.
Briefly summarize how Utah evolved from being politically ordinary to Republican-dominated.
The chief factor is Latter-day Saint resistance to American social change, specifically to the sexual revolution that changed American behavior after World War II.
Latter-day Saints still adhere to the old morality and to marriage and traditional families more than other Americans, and they vote their belief in traditional families and morality.
When has Utah morality aligned and differed with the rest of the country? How important is morality to understanding Utah politics?
Public morality has been decisive in Utah politics.
As America changed, Utah fought battles over abortion, pornography, birth control for teens without telling their parents, gay marriage and other issues, as Utahns, specifically Latter-day Saints, tried to retain legal support for the old American public morality. Federal courts decided those issues against Latter-day Saint preferences.
They now vote Republican as the party more for the old morality, and more against federal power.
What conflicts and ideologies are at play in the legislature working to overturn citizen referendums?
This is new. Lawmakers haven’t acted this way before. It shows most legislators have safe seats and don’t fear voters. They believe majorities may oppose them on specific issues, but they will still carry safe majorities in their districts.
Unless a number of Republicans lose the coming election, legislators will continue to disregard voters when they disagree with them.
How is President Trump viewed by key Utah politicians with Latter-day Saint affiliation? Does this align with or differ from what history would suggest?
From 1976 through 2012, Utah was the most Republican state in seven of 10 elections, and close to the most Republican in the others.
For Trump, Utah was the least Republican state of all states that voted for Trump.
Utah Latter-day Saints gave 32 percent of their vote to Evan McMcullin, who got almost no votes anywhere else. Those voters objected to Trump’s morality. Utah Republican politicians also object to his morality, but like having a Republican in the White House.
Who makes your list of the Top 5 influential political figures in Utah history?
- Brigham Young;
- Reed Smoot;
- Orrin Hatch;
- Cal Rampton;
- Mike Leavitt.
What are three things every MPA student who will read your book should know to truly understand Utah politics?
1) In Utah, Latter-day Saints vote Republican; non-Mormons vote Democratic; Utah is the most religiously divided state in America.
2) Because of Latter-day Saints, Utah is the most married state, the state with the highest birth rate and youngest population, and the state where a baby is least likely to be born out of marriage.
3) Because of those demographics, Utah has a child-poverty rate 40 percent lower than the national rate. Children born out of marriage are four times more likely to be poor than children born to married parents, and Utah has more of the latter and less of the former.
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