Sometimes, American voters have the attention spans of cocker spaniel puppies. When somebody says something like, "Let's make America great again," "Feel the Bern" or "We'll build a wall. It'll be sooo big," our communal reaction is to say, "Ooh, look at the bouncy ball!" and then run after it.
Political slogans energize easily distracted puppies. But, you know what happens to puppies after all-out running and jumping? They run out of gas and lie down for a nap.
Which brings me to my time waiting in line for a record two-and-a-half hours to vote in this year's political caucus. It was fun. Most of us joked about Bernie, Hillary, Ted and the Donald. But now, what will we do? Think this is a newly energized Utah? Naah. Look at local politics. Everybody whines about our state Legislature, but, come November, we'll just be a litter of sleeping puppies. Sorry to say, little changes in politics. I've seen it all before.
Back in 1968, I remember our national attention-deficit disorder being disrupted by then-Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, the Darth Vader political mentor of today's Donald Trump. Way before Trump, Agnew attacked anyone who disagreed with him and didn't care if you were a member of the GOP, or a Democrat. He labeled college students "an effete corps of impudent snobs," creating today's playbook on how candidates appeal to working voters.
Since we didn't have Facebook or Instagram in those days, activists at my school mocked Agnew wearing big buttons that read "A member of that effete corps of impudent snobs." Wearing snarky political buttons was our social media.
Agnew was a tough adversary. He had been successful in business, as governor of Maryland and as vice president. We feared that his General George Patton act would lead him right to the White House, just like we panic over today's candidates. Fortunately, VP Agnew got himself convicted as a crook and was sent off to a different federally funded big house.
Back then, we had angry neighborhoods. It got so tense, I was told not to study for final college exams because my National Guard unit was on standby after riots broke out across America. Los Angeles was under siege, yet most poor communities didn't vote— just like Ferguson, Mo., where voter turnout in Michael Brown's district was around 5 percent. Michigan's governor may well end up in the slammer over bad water, but it is questionable whether Flint folks will vote beyond their usual 15 percent to 33 percent.
Here in Utah, except when Romney runs, we have among the lowest presidential-voting record in the nation. Usually, three out of four who should be registered voters, don't vote.
Occasionally, some of us feel we can change things if we face our elected officials eyeball to eyeball. During the 2016 legislative session, I was invited to accompany the Coalition of Religious Communities, which is made up of 15 local faith groups working to alleviate poverty. The group's plan was to spend a day lobbying on the Hill, advocating for fair housing, improved homeless services, and Medicaid expansion. I had never before lobbied nor had I even met a lobbyist; so I said, "Sure, why not?" These religious groups were very respectable—not effete, impudent, nor snobby—which was OK with me since I'd aged out of that stuff, anyway.
So, I put on a clean shirt and tie and went to the Capitol. After a one-hour crash course in lobbying, I was sent up the marble stairs to the House of Representatives, so I could send notes on little green sheets to various House members asking to interrupt their debating and voting to come out and let me talk to them about two of more than 1,000 bills being debated and voted upon. It didn't go all that well. Not one elected official honored my little green petition for attention.
But I did get to chat with some really nice paid lobbyists, one of whom felt sorry for me and explained his "three truths" to me, hoping they would be useful if I decided to try this again next year. 1. Don't bother to lobby in front of the Senate chambers. Those guys never, ever, come out to see you. 2. Don't expect to accomplish much by lobbying at the House chamber door, either. If you haven't already convinced them in committee, or in their offices, why would you think you're going to do it here? 3. These 200 or so lobbyists are here crowding the House chamber door, not because this is the sure way to change the tide of a pending vote, but because they are paid lobbyists—and a paycheck is a paycheck.
To be fair, Utah legislators worked really hard and passed 475 bills this year. They avoided a couple of big ones you may have been really keen on, such medical cannabis and Medicaid expansion. But I'm pretty sure lawmakers feel safe in keeping their jobs, unless you decide otherwise.
So, congratulations to those of you who attended your Republican and Democratic caucuses. You made your feelings known as to whom you want for president. But, if Sanders or Cruz—the overwhelming Utah favorites—don't make it on to the presidential ballot, will you come back in the fall to finish the job you started in March on the state level? Or will you be a cocker spaniel puppy, tired from chasing the bouncy ball, curled up in the corner napping? CW
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