Kathie Allen’s performance and declared stances in today’s KSL debate are emblematic of a deepening trend towards total irrelevance in Utah politics.
It may be surprising to discover, but the dominance of the Republican Party in Utah is a relatively recent occurrence, not fully taking hold until the Ronald Reagan era of the 1980s. Before then, not only did Utah have a unique political history compared to other states in the Union but the Democratic and the Republican Parties (when they eventually showed up) actually took turns holding considerable sway in Utah politics.
Before the 1890s, neither major American political party (Democrats or Republicans) had an effectual presence in Utah politics. Instead, politics revolved around two political parties unique to the territory: the People’s Party and the Liberal Party, both formed in 1870 in direct opposition to each other. For all intents and purposes, the People’s Party was filled with members of the LDS Church and supported by the leadership of the Church while the Liberal Party was singularly an “Anti-Mormon Party” whose membership was either disenchanted or disavowed former Latter-day Saints or non-members moving into the territory for different reasons than the LDS settlers (usually for mining). The political stances and focal points for conflict revolved around very different issues than what was general at the time, with the only consistent area of disagreement being the influence of the LDS Church in directing some portions of policy (Utah as a territory did not elect its governor, who was instead appointed by the US President. This often resulted in territorial leadership less inclined to respect the majority LDS population, and often governed from an outright Anti-Mormon viewpoint, meaning the Liberal Party’s claims of a monopoly in governance by the LDS Church were extremely overstated). The Populist Party won most elections during this early period in Utah history, due simply to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Utah citizens were LDS, but there were many unique and interesting anecdotes which came from their competition with the Liberal Party, including the Republic of Tooele.
One reason for the unique party system in the early history of Utah was that the LDS Church in the 1800s was held in mutual disdain by the Republican and Democratic Parties. The Republicans had essentially announced outright opposition to the LDS Church, as the main party plank upon creation was “to prohibit…those twin relics of barbarism: Polygamy and slavery.” (An estimated 30% of the LDS Population practiced Church sanctioned Plural Marriage until it was ended by Prophetic Manifesto in 1890) Whereas the Democrats despised the LDS Church as significant portions of LDS membership held abolitionist views (A large reason the Church was persecuted so heavily in Missouri) and supported female suffrage (Utah first granted women the vote in 1870).
The unique political structure in Utah changed in 1890 as the territory began seeking statehood. Several prominent LDS Church leaders called for an abandonment of the People’s Party and encouraged membership to join the Republican and Democratic parties in equal numbers so as to begin reflecting the politics and stances of the rest of the country. This attempt to allow equal sway in Utah politics to both major parties, and ensure large portions of LDS membership in both major parties, became a mainstay of LDS politics for the majority of the 20th Century. In fact, until the election of Governor Bangerter in 1985, Utah had experienced an equal number of Governors from either major political party (6 and 6) since 1890, which included two periods of exclusive Democratic dominance, one lasting 24 years from 1925 to 1949 and the other lasting 20 years from 1965 to 1985. The current Republican gubernatorial dominance in Utah will reach a span of 35 years upon the completion of Governor Herbert’s current term, but 21 of those years belong to only two governors, one of which (Mike Leavitt) is arguably the most popular politician in modern Utah history.
Following Utah’s traditional pattern of politics, one might assume the state is ripe for several decades of Democratic dominance, but the candidacy of Kathie Allen in Utah’s 3rd congressional district special election, demonstrates that the Utah Democratic Party has all but conceded political dominance of Utah to the Republican Party for the foreseeable future.
Utah politics are unique in that, while the average voting Latter-day Saint identifies as conservative, they nevertheless possess an identity and perspective very different to many other conservatives across the country. A unique view on immigration and inclusiveness, a firm belief that the Constitution is an inspired document, an instinct to instantly relate with persecuted minorities and religions, a hesitance to engage in reactionary departure from principles, and a stance of official political neutrality from LDS Church leadership have played a large part in creating a general willingness throughout Utah history to abandon support of one party or another when either swings to the margins of political thought. Given the recent swell of nationalist and reactionary tendencies in the Republican Party, a door is open for the Democratic Party if they could simply present themselves as the voices of reason in an unreasonable age. But the current Utah Democratic Party is doing just the opposite.
After a quick scan of Dr. Kathie Allen’s campaign website, you might be forgiven for thinking this Democrat is running for election in California. She has adopted nearly every stance of the hard left factions of the Democratic Party, writing about issues in a manner completely tone deaf to the feelings and opinions of many Utahns, both Republicans and Democrats. Recognizing the reality that many “Issues” pages for campaign websites are actually written by interns and directed more at national donors than necessarily local constituents, I listened in to the 3rd District debate this morning on the Doug Wright show and was absolutely floored to hear Kathie Allen not only double down on every point from her website but go even further in her declarations on such things as healthcare and public lands, adopting and communicating stances she has to know stand no chance of popular support in what the Cook Political Report Partisan Voter Index says is the 16th most Republican District in the country. The only conclusion I can draw is that Utah’s Democratic Party is not interested in seriously competing anywhere but it’s bastion in Salt Lake City and, what it feels is, the low hanging fruit of Mia Love’s 4th District (The least conservative Utah district but still +13 on the Cook Index) and has only bothered to run a candidate in the 3rd District at all, as a way to drum up money for the Utah Democratic Party from national interests. What other reason could there be for kowtowing to the national party and hard left special interests despite the unavoidable and obvious reality that only a Jim Matheson or Ben McAdams type candidate stands a chance of competing, let alone winning, in the 3rd district?
If it is as I believe, that the Utah Democratic Party has indeed adopted the stance that it is more interested in demonstrating full faith to the hard line policies of the national Democratic Party than in embarking on good faith efforts to honestly represent Utah constituents, it should be one of the most concerning developments of the modern political era both for Utah Democrats, Utah’s unaffiliated independents, and Utah Republicans (like me) who would love to see an effective check on the influence of Trump, Bannon, and the nationalist strain bleeding into the GOP.
There should be no greater embarrassment to the Utah Democratic Party than Utahns fleeing the hard swerve to the right of Trump’s GOP who could not in good conscience become Democrats, but are trickling instead to third parties such as United Utah, the Federalist Party, and the Modern Whigs. If the Democratic Party of today was the Democratic Party of even ten years ago, candidates like Kathie Allen would still be spinning their wheels uselessly in the Green Party, and either John Curtis or Jim Bennett would be making serious runs for Congress as Democrats. If the Democratic Party of today was the Democratic Party of even ten years ago, Daisy Thomas would be the Party Chair for the Utah Socialist Party, and someone Jim Matheson, a Democrat whose actually won office and understands Utahns and their issues, would be leading the Party to victory after victory and the Utah GOP would be tripping over itself to get as much distance between themselves and Trump as possible. If the Democratic Party of today was the Democratic Party of even ten years ago, who knows, I might have gladly called myself a Blue Dog.
But, the reality is that the Utah Democratic Party is embracing the national trend of Democratic politics to go even harder to the left than the GOP is going to the right, not only setting themselves up for failure against a weakened and vulnerable Republican Party nationally, but solidifying the permanent irrelevance of the Utah Democratic Party in State politics. I would not be surprised in the least if the special election for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District becomes a contest between John Curtis and Jim Bennett with Kathie Allen self-relegating herself to the role of the hapless progressive warrior playing little more than the cursory spoiler, getting lots of slaps on the backs from the coastal elites she truly represents and cares about, while truly accomplishing….nothing. If such irrelevance does not come to the party in this election, the current trajectory of the Utah Democratic Party will nevertheless doom it to such a fate in the not to distant future.
-The Millennial Federalist
Categories: Today's Issues