Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Letter To Senator Bennett

Dear Senator Bennett,

Last Wednesday, I received a call from Andy Howell from the Standard Examiner. He wondered if he could get my comment on a statement from you: that the Utah Democratic Party is the “anti-Mormon” party.

In the subsequent article in the paper, Andy wrote that I was “surprised” by your comments. Surprised is accurate – and I would add, very disappointed. I’ve respected you through the years, and really thought you were above resorting to the old “you can’t be a good Mormon and a Democrat” charge. I guess it just goes to show how hubris born of too much unchallenged power can even affect nice guys like you.

But as I thought about it, I realized your confusion probably results from the fact that you don’t spend much time around your non-Republican constituents. I might be able to help you there. As a recently converted Democrat and first time candidate, I’ve traveled all around Northern Utah meeting large numbers of Utah Democrats for the first time. I thought you’d be interested in learning about the Utah Democrats I’ve run into.

One group I’ve grown close to is the Tooele County Democrats. There are some great folk out there. One typical example is County Sheriff Frank Park and his pretty wife Randi. (Frank groused to me good naturedly that Randi had distributed more copies of my booklet than she had of his campaign pamphlet.) The first night at the Tooele County Fair, Randi and I had an interesting conversation – not about politics, but about her seven-year tenure as ward Primary president. I pumped her for some pointers on how her bishop had talked her into staying that long; I figured the information might be useful.

Of course, one can’t mention Tooele County Democrats without a reference to that radical, blame-America-first liberal, Representative Jim Gowans. (I hope the sarcasm wasn’t too subtle for you, Senator.) It was quite the experience to stand next to this respected rancher and citizen-legislator at a booth in Stansbury Park recently and see the great respect the people out there have towards him.

I’ve also become great friends with Jan and Art Douglas, who live in Howell, up in Box Elder County. Art reminds me a lot of my grandfather (except, of course, Grandpa Olsen was a whole lot taller). He’s a throwback to those great Roosevelt Democrat farmers like my grandpa, who would never vote for a Republican because they didn’t stand up for the little guy. I spent about an hour with Art outside the auction barn at the Box Elder County Fair while he introduced me to people that walked by – and he knew everybody! It was pretty amazing. Of course, you know Art – he’s related his discussion with you where you were quite flippant towards his concerns about the state of the American family farm. And of course, there’s former Representative Eli Anderson, who’s running for County Commission – a good ol’ Utah boy if there ever was one. It was a sad day for rural Northern Utah when they lost that last remaining “D” in the Legislature.

Down in Davis County are some great folk, including Richard Watson, the county chair and Legislative candidate who popularized the “LDS Democrat” baseball cap, and my dear friend Rob Miller, State Party Vice-Chair and County Commission candidate, with whom I’ve had some very spiritual Gospel discussions.

Let’s not forget my home here in Weber County. I was privileged to have Bishop Neil Hansen and Bishop Scott Jenkins (otherwise known as Rep. Hansen (D) and Sen. Jenkins (R)) accept invitations to speak in our ward’s sacrament meeting the last Sunday in July. The two men obviously had a lot of respect for each other, and the ward members are still commenting on what a wonderful message each of these great men presented. And of course, there’s that sweet former school teacher, Lou Shirtliff. Lou and I had an interesting discussion recently about her letter writing campaign to KSL Radio, where she has repeatedly asked them a simple question: How can you guys carry the loving words of the Prophet twice a year, and then pollute the airwaves with the hateful propaganda of Sean Hannity during the week? A Quixotic quest, to be sure, but I respect her for fighting for what’s right.

I also need to mention former Senator Ed Allen, a gracious, kindly Ogden physician with a long history of Church leadership whose eyes flash in anger these days when he talks about what the Republicans are doing to his country.

I could go on, but you get the drift. I think you would not be nearly so judgmental about Utah Democrats if you actually ever spent time around any. True, some of our more liberal brethren and sisters tend to be more vocal and are in the media a little more (reference that “big tent” thing that you said we didn’t practice). But to call the rank-and-file folk I’ve met the last six months “anti-Mormon” is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard. And by the way, I’ve never seen anyone more respectful toward the Church and its leaders and members than our current State Chair, Wayne Holland, who by the way, was elected by a majority of us Democrats.

Don’t think I’m offended. I’m sure rank and file Utah Democrats aren’t either; after all, they’re used to this kind of thing every election season from you guys. But I do think you owe the First Presidency an apology for your comments, which were very disrespectful to the Church.

So just what is it about the statements, “the Church does not endorse any political party or candidate” or “all major political parties contain values consistent with the Gospel” that is unclear to you?


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