ST. GEORGE – A small gathering of area Democrats met at Dixie State University Friday night for the first stop of of the Utah Democratic Party’s statewide listening tour.
“The purpose of the listening tour is just that: listening to people – to hear what they have to say about the Democratic Party, what the platform should be, how we should restructure, what we should be doing,” said Peter Corroon, chair of the Utah Democratic Party.
“We’re a big tent party we have a lot of people with a lot of ideas and we want to hear them,” he said.
The listening tour was conceived in the wake of the 2016 election. While the Democrats lost the presidential election, Utah Democrats lost a legislative seat yet also picked up two new ones from Salt Lake County.
Corroon, along with state party staff, met with around 20-25 area Democrats at the Gardner Center on the DSU campus Friday night to discuss, hear and share ideas. When recommendations were made, they were written on a large sheet of paper set on a stand. While a little slow to fill out at first, it was covered with suggestions by the end of the meeting.
Among the suggestions made by attendees were getting the party to focus more on “core issues” and finding better ways to reach out to those outside of the party.
While Democrats believe in and will pursue matters related to civil rights and equality, said gathering attendee Della Lowe, a former chair of the Washington County Democratic Party. She noted those could become “wedge issues” for them and thus not necessarily on their priority list of issues to focus on. She suggested the party work on presenting everyday issues that appeal to a broader range of people first.
“People have everyday issues that are terribly important to them.” Lowe said. “They need to understand that you (as a Democrat) care about those issues.”
Lowe and Corroon said those core issues the Utah Democratic Party espouses are education, health care, having a clean environment (air quality and water) and fair wages.
“If you look at the issues that we care about as Democrats,” Corroon said, “we think those are issues that best represent Utah families.”
As for better party outreach, Chuck Goode, a former candidate for state House District 71, said one of the best things the party can do is to “get personal” by getting out into the community and getting to know the people firsthand.
While campaigning for House 71, Goode said, he went door-to-door in the district and got people to know him as a person and not as “just a Democrat.”
Goode also said that while Democrats do well in urban areas like Salt Lake County, they do so well in heavily-conservative rural Utah.
Well known Washington County Democrat and candidate Dorothy Engelman also attended the gathering and suggested a way that future Democratic candidates could get people to know them beyond party affiliation is by running in nonpartisan races.
“A Democrat is not going to be elected in the area until they are known as a person without a ‘D’ next to their name,” Engelman said.
Both Engelman and Goode said the state party could do better in supporting local candidates. Early on, Corroon said, the state party generally leaves it to the county-level parties to support their respective candidates.
Engelman and others also said the party needs to focus on engaging younger voters. One person noted that while they were meeting on the campus of DSU, no students were present. Those who showed up for the meeting were primarily of an older demographic.
Suggestions on ways to engage young adult voters, and even future voters still in high school, was to better utilize social media and popular online outlets like YouTube as ways to get the party’s message out.
Corroon said that he’s noticed that young adults care more about issues than political parties. They see the parties as a part of a political establishment that doesn’t have their interests in mind, thus making voting a worthless endeavor. Later on, he said the same of voters in general.
“Frankly, people don’t care so much about politics anymore,” he said. “They don’t care about the Democrats. They don’t care about the Republicans. They care about the issues. Utah families care about the issues that affect them, and that’s really where we need to focus.”
The Utah Democratic Party’s listen tour continues in Moab Saturday, then moved on to Provo, Ogden, Logan and Salt Lake City as the month progresses.
For those unable to attend the meetings, an online community survey is available via the Utah Democratic Party’s website through Jan. 31.
Suggestions from the meetings and survey will be reviewed by a restructuring task force with proposed changes being applied to the state party’s constitution and bylaws in an effort to help the party become a more open and welcoming organization. The suggestions gleaned from the listening tour will also help refocus the party’s mission for the coming year and beyond.
“I don’t think the Democratic Party needs to be refocused,” Lowe said. “I don’t think we need to rework the party or ideas. I think we just need to make sure that people hear us, and it’s hard when you’re in such a minority.
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