ST. GEORGE — Utah state Rep. Travis Seegmiller said that, while he loves going to Salt Lake City to work on legislation, the 45-day session – which is the shortest in the nation – can be a distraction.
“The reason I became a legislator is that I love serving my constituents,” Seegmiller told St. George News. “I love talking with them about their concerns and trying to see if there’s anything that can be done.”
This process can feel somewhat restrained, however, during the time of being tied up with studying and voting on bills from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. for five days a week, he said. Throughout the recent legislative session, emails and voicemails keep piling up.
“I had over 1,000 emails and 200 voicemails waiting for me last time,” Seegmiller said. “I serve over 23,000 voters. But I’m just one person. I have no staff.”
Seegmiller, an attorney and academic who earned a bachelor’s degree in leadership psychology and international studies from Yale and a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center, is also on the Judiciary Committee for the Utah House of Representatives.
While he’s worked on a diverse set of bills, as a native of Washington City, he felt compelled to join in the discussion around the Dixie State University name change process.
“It felt sudden and dramatic,” Seegmiller said. “It feels rushed, as we’re having these nationwide conversations around the George Floyd tragedy and racism. I’m an opponent of quick and dirty changes. What we need is a rich, slow process that includes the community.”
Seegmiller said he has received many calls and emails around the issue that said: “Please, don’t let them erase our history without allowing us to share our stories.”
Seegmiller said that he reads commentary on social media, but rarely responds.
“It’s hard enough to keep up with calls, texts and emails,” he said. “The contentious tone a lot of messages on social media takes doesn’t help, either. I want to listen and learn, but it’s hard to do that with mean-spirited people.”
Seegmiller, who is also a professor of constitution law at Dixie State, said many expected an affirmative vote would be in the bag. Instead, he sided with the voters.
“When HB-278 hit the House Floor, I tried to amend it,” he said. “I insisted that we need better timing and a collaborative process. This is our community. We don’t want people with no history here, who don’t understand our shared history, to come in and make quick changes.”
Seegmiller said he found himself in a quandary while working for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, in Washington, D.C.
“I was thinking about St. George a lot,” he said as he walked through a field on his family farm, where overhead, clouds drifted before March’s midday sun, making it chilly one minute and warm the next.
“I knew the area was changing quickly,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I don’t get back, my daughters will never see this or know what it means to me.’ With my daughters, we’re eight generations deep, here.”
So Seegmiller and his wife, Lisa Hopkins Seegmiller, moved back to the Seegmiller farm – or what was left of it. After his grandfather sold the land, contractors began building large houses on it and paving a grid of roads.
“The first thing he did after selling the land was to buy my grandmother a new dress,” Seegmiller said. “It was the first new dress she’d had since they got married.”
Seegmiller said that, in many ways, his upbringing shaped his approach to representing his constituents.
“My grandfather was money-poor but land-rich,” he said. “I learned early what it meant to be thrifty. We lived by the old saying, ‘Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do, or do without.’ That’s one of the reasons why I strive to be frugal with state taxes.”
Not long after he returned to Washington City, Seegmiller entered into an eight-way race to replace Jon Stanard. Seegmiller won the seat and began his own journey as a politician.
“Every bill I work on, I ask myself, ‘Will this make a positive difference for my kids?'” he said.
When he was young, Seegmiller said his mother used to sing “Give, Said the Little Stream,” as a lullaby.
“There’s one lyric that sticks with me, still,” he said. “It goes, ‘I’m small, I know, but wherever I go, the fields grow greener still.'”
The house where Seegmiller’s family lives is surrounded by new houses, but the field to the north has been left, more or less, as it was when his grandfather still farmed the land. Geese and swans huddled together along an irrigation ditch. A red-tailed hawk circled overhead, looking for a meal. There’s a pond to the west, where American widgeons float along the shore, wheezing to one another.
Those entering the field are greeted by an old shed, which stands next to cattle and goat pens. The wood fences, Seegmiller said, were built as the pioneers did it. The pens don’t have locks, which stands in stark contrast to the homes that loom to the south that are 10,000 square-feet or more.
“Some people look at this stuff and see junk,” he said. “I see history, and I want to hold onto it, to share it with our children. I don’t see myself as a career politician. I just want to do my part in making the grass a little greener, to really serve the voters, before I move on.”
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