Monday, October 13, 2008

Leaders and Managers

We had a candidate debate last Wednesday evening at the Provo city center, hosted by the Provo-Orem Chamber of Commerce. Gathered at the event were all the legislative candidates in Provo who fielded questions from a moderator and the audience.

During the introductions, Senator Curt Bramble raised the oft-repeated refrain that Utah government is the most efficient government in the nation. The claim is based on a Pew study that ranked government efficiency, and the incumbents are currently touting the ranking as a sign that they are doing a great job and should be reelected.

In responding to Bramble's comment, I couldn't resist referring to talk given by my father-in-law, Hugh Nibley, entitled Leadership and Management. Nibley noted that managers prize efficiency above all else, but it is leaders who break the mold and escape mediocrity. Managers are constantly aware of "promotion, perks, privilege, and power"--"awe and reverence for rank is everything." Leaders, on the other hand, "have a passion for equality . . . set the highest example; and break the mold." Nibley continued, "Leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises that discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace. For the managers are safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men and team players, dedicated to the establishment."

I noted that the fast food industry is very efficient, but their food is not all that good for you. It's a question of values, I believe. We may have an efficient state government, but our values are out of kilter.

For example a few years ago, our legislature approved $15 million for a new parking garage at the state capitol, but refused funding $2 million to restore emergency dental benefits for Medicaid recipients. Our legislative leaders have refused to provide the $164,000 to provide eyeglasses and eye exams to 60,000 of the state's poorest residents, but managed to find over $35 million to build a soccer stadium. And just recently, in an emergency session to patch the budget after a projected $354 million shortfall, the legislature cuts will leave 19 million people without Medicaid benefits while leaving roads untouched. The legislature has efficiently kept our budget within its limits, but has made some questionable judgments in the process.

Evidently our state legislators now feel it can be even more efficient if we limit the amount of input voters can have in the process. Last year, they passed a flawed voucher law, ignoring constituents' concerns. After a divisive referendum vote, the law was overturned by the public. The will of the citizens got in the way of the legislature's efficiency, so now some legislators are considering changing the referendum law. Senator Bramble stated to the Deseret News that, "If you look at those states where referendums and initiatives are very easy to put on a ballot, you simply can't govern effectively by a pure democracy." The paper sarcastically summed up Senator Bramble's opinion: "government doesn't work best when elected representatives are constantly, and frivolously, overruled by the citizens they are elected to make decisions for."

So I have to hand it to our state legislature. They are very effective managers. They get the job done efficiently, especially when those pesky citizens get out of the way. But when it comes to leadership, they leave a lot to be desired.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Beyond Politics

When I announced my candidacy, the Deseret News reported that "the son-in-law of Hugh Nibley announced his bid to run for public office." I was a bit frustrated with the story. Not that I mind being associated with Hugh Nibley--he was more than my father-in-law; I consider him the father of my spiritual self. And as Hugh Nibley's biographer, I got to know him better than most people ever did. I have never been ashamed to be introduced as Hugh Nibley's son-in-law. He was, for me, a true hero.

But when the Deseret News reported that it was Hugh Nibley's son-in-law who was entering this race, I felt they had overlooked my own qualifications for running: that I had worked for almost a decade in Washington, DC for the U.S. Congress and that for most of that time I worked for both sides as non-designated staff. I not only gained experience learning how government works and about the issues of importance to citizens, but I gained experience working with both parties and with very diverse personalities. I felt my own qualifications were being somehow diminished by the focus on my relationship with my famous father-in-law.

But I have been rethinking that original frustration. I think Hugh Nibley had a lot to say about politics that made a huge impact on my life. One of his essays that most impressed me was called "Beyond Politics." There, Nibley observed that politics can "bring out some of the best in human nature," including "energy, dedication, courage, loyalty, selflessness, zeal and industry." But he also noted the darker side of politics--the "dirty tricks and shady deals, payoffs, betrayals," the "scheming" and "Gadianton loyalties." Nibley challenged us to move "beyond politics," to put partisan behavior and self-interest aside and work for the common good of our community.

I lament that campaigns inevitably end up mudslinging: name calling, innuendo, distortion of each side's record, honest misstatements being played up, all for political gain. But when the mud starts flying both sides end up dirty, and the community ends up the real loser; we end up more divided upon partisan lines and with less trust for whoever wins. Call me an optimist, but I honestly believe most people who get into politics do so for good reasons and that there are good people on both sides of the aisle. I believe this because I've worked with some of them side-by-side. I've seen their tireless service and their good hearts. I've also been saddened when these individuals' reputations have been muddied in campaigns. It happens all too often in American politics.

Don't get me wrong, campaigns should be the place to lay out differences between the policies and ideals of the two sides, and incumbents must stand behind the record of votes they have cast. All that is fair game. But I wish we could raise the level of discourse.

When my biography of Hugh Nibley was published, I received praise from two LDS U.S. Senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat. Both loved Hugh Nibley and were inspired by his life and words. I felt good that I had managed to please both men--bipartisan support in the Senate is not an easy thing to achieve. But it also meant that my writing had built bridges, that I had not alienated either man. That is my promise to voters this year. I promise to bring consensus building and openness to government.

Two of Hugh Nibley's greatest virtues were his independence of thought and deep loyalty to community. He spoke his mind, but he always affirmed his commitment to his community, his church, and his God. It’s those very virtues that I’d like to bring to the Utah state legislature. I promise to be an independent voice, not beholden to either party or to any special interest, and keep my loyalties reserved for the community of Utah valley.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Of Ideals and Ethics

Now that Labor day is over and students are back to school, the political season has officially begun in earnest. Both national conventions are over and we are in for a historical election no matter what happens: either we get our first woman as vice president or our first black president. It's an exciting year!

I am also very optimistic about our choices. When I worked in the U.S. Senate, I got to watch John McCain in action from a fairly close perspective. He never served on the same committee I worked for, but he had a reputation for putting country ahead of party and always seemed kind and self-defacing in person. I was impressed not only by McCain's life story, but by his actions.

I left Washington, DC long before Obama came to town, but I am impressed by his zeal and vision. I honestly believe we are in very good hands this year; instead of having to vote for the lesser of two evils, I think we have the good fortune to chose between two impressive and competent leaders.

As non-partisan/non-designated staff, I had to work for both the Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Energy committee. Later I worked for the non-partisan research arm of congress, the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. In both positions, I gained a great appreciation for the hard work of both Republican and Democratic members of congress and their staff and how dedicated both sides are to serving their country.

Unfortunately, I also saw how special interests can influence both sides as they buy influence to push their agendas. I saw how the strong ideals of the many can be corrupted by improper influence. I came to believe that if we want ethical conduct of Congress we have to put laws on the books that require high ethical standards.

This past few years, we have watched our state legislators take lavish gifts from lobbyists and pass questionable laws that appear to put lobbyists' interests ahead of voters' interests. My opponent opposed legislation that would have required schools to offer healthy snacks in their vending machines, apparently putting the snack-food lobby ahead of our children. She sponsored legislation that effectively lowered the taxes on smokeless tobacco, a bill that was opposed by the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Coalition for Tobacco Free Utah and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The bill was lobbied for by the tobacco industry. And an audit of Mountainland Applied Technology College and subsequent newspaper articles revealed that my opponent pressured the College to build a parade float for the Utah county GOP, likely using public funds. She is also a co-chair of an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that holds closed meetings to produce “model legislation” promoting the interests of big-business and with strong ties to the tobacco industry.

I am convinced that most people go into politics for idealistic reasons, wanting to make the world a better place. I am also convinced that my opponent is a good, well-meaning person. But having seen the ways improper influence can lead good people to compromise their ethical standards, I firmly believe that it is only by having solid laws on the books which demand ethical conduct of our leaders that we will keep those good, idealistic people good and idealistic. If I were to take bribes from my students for the A's they all think they deserve, I would be fired as a teacher. If I were a businessman who took a bribe when negotiating a contract, I would be fired from the company and likely investigated by the police. Yet we allow our politicians to take lavish gifts from lobbyists and suppose those gifts do not influence their positions. We must demand change.

Whether McCain or Obama wins this election, I truly believe the country will be in good shape. I am an optimist when it comes to this nation's future. It's a country that allowed a steelworker's son to go on to grad school and become a college teacher. It's a country of endless possibilities and hope. It's a country forever looking forward to a promised land. But to make future happen, we voters must hold our elected officials feet to the fire. We must demand the same ethical behavior of our politicians that we live ourselves and teach our children.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


When I was about eight years old, I remember going up to BYU on a field trip with the cub scouts to see THE COMPUTER! The COMPUTER filled a fairly large room, buzzed with glowing tubes and wires, and we watched behind glass walls as the programers, wearing white lab coats, fed it punch cards to make it hum along. We were all really impressed. By the time I got to college, computers had shrunk to fit on desk tops, but they might as well have been programmed by punch cards. People who used computers had to know a language called DOS, an intimidating little code that was way too off-putting for a French and International Relations major like me. Twenty something years later, I am feeling much more confident around computers. I can handle email with the greatest of ease. I surf the web with the best of them. And I can type in Word or WordPerfect. But blogging is a new frontier for me.

But then, like a next generation of Star Trek, I'm boldly exploring a lot of new frontiers this year. I am also running for the Utah state legislature in district 64, which includes southeast Provo, northeast Springville, and parts of Spanish Fork, Benjamin, and Lakeshore.

When I left Washington thirteen years ago, I never imagined I would run for political office. I had seen first-hand how messy politics can be. And I had also become frustrated with how special interests can control the political process. I returned to Provo with a resolve to stop watching the news, reading papers, and just focus on my own little family. A plague on both of the parties, was my mantra.

But something happened to me recently. Last year, I watched as the Utah state legislature passed a voucher law without consulting with or listening to their constituents. In forums where they should have listened and could have heard that this was a volatile issue, legislators talked down to voters, and preceeded to act like they knew better than we did. When we finally rose up and got the issue on the ballot, we overturned the law. I suspect that, like me, voters not only felt that the voucher law was flawed, but they felt their elected officials had acted in a patronizing manner.

When I was asked to run for the legislature, I did not make the decision lightly. I knew that it would be a real battle and I am not the kind of person who likes to be in the spotlight. But I also felt strongly that we need change in the Utah state legislature. I also took seriously the admonition of my church to get involved in politics to promote moral values, and I do not believe those values are currently being represented in our state legislature.

My neighbors are all kind, generous people. But I'm seeing the state legislature passing laws that divide our communities, promote special interests, and waste taxpayer money. I promise to work to bring real Utah values back to our state legislature, to work for stronger schools, managed growth, better health care coverage, and, most importantly, ethics reform in government. I sincerely believe we need to hold our elected leaders to the same ethical and moral standards we teach our children.

So I am boldly going where I never would have thought I'd go, to explore new frontiers of technology and politics. I am a bit overwhelmed, but I am ready for the journey. Please join me. I promise to bring integrity, compassion, and accountability to our legislature.