On November 3, 2020, Utahns will go to the polls to elect a governor. Although well over a year away, it’s an important election that could define the Beehive State for the next 20 years. Haha… JK. It will end up being meaningless like every other election. Who am I to write something like “important election that could define…”? I’m not Robert Gehrke. You’re not reading a Gehrke column. You’re reading a column on a website that’s published no fewer than five in-depth pieces about an obscure YouTube show starring a returned missionary trying (and failing) to kiss confused BYU students on the cheek. And by the end of this week, we will have hosted no fewer than two live events featuring our very own Meg Walter and Eli McCann asking “But why?” to everyone who participated in the show. I don’t know how we could be more clear, dear reader: we DGAF about the next 20 years.
But like rumors of church-sanctioned coffee, the next 20 years are going to happen whether we care or not – so let’s pretend to care for the duration of this column. A number of things have transpired since I last wrote about the race to be Utah’s next governor. Businessman Jeff Burningham, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Aimee Winder-Newton, and Utah GOP national committeeman Thomas Wright have all begun laying the groundwork for a potential run. There are also rumors Jon Huntsman Jr. is on his way home to take back the throne he vacated in 2009 after accepting then-President Barack Obama’s offer to become ambassador to China. As someone who’s lived in Utah my entire life, there are only two things I know to be true about this state:
1. We love a good root beer float.
2. We vote for the person with the right last name.
I’m not saying either is a good thing. Multiple studies have shown root beer floats to be an unhealthy beverage choice, and voting for a person because their father happened to make their last name relevant has never made sense. As Utahns, we ignore all of that. We pour A&W over two scoops of vanilla ice cream and vote for the offspring of one of Utah’s royal families.
It might have something to do with the way these races get covered. Maybe Jon Huntsman Jr. should be our next governor, and maybe Mitt Romney deserves to be Utah’s newest senior-junior senator? What no one deserves is to hear how inevitable the outcome is and how victory for the guy with the hair and last name is all but assured.
We shouldn’t have to read countless horse race articles about who’s ahead, who’s behind, and what victory will mean for a family’s legacy. We don’t need editorial boards to tell us how to vote, or media companies too obsessed with access to celebrity candidates to be an honest voice for the people. We don’t need gatekeepers putting themselves between candidates and voters. If they don’t have to, candidates won’t answer serious questions or think about Utah’s future in a meaningful way. The campaign coverage will be about fundraising, endorsements, bogus polls, and other meaningless intrigue. We can’t let that happen.
A campaign should be an opportunity for citizens to have a conversation about the future with their prospective leaders. The agenda should be set by the people – not the candidates. In fact, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has recently begun calling on media organizations to work with the communities they serve to develop a “citizens agenda.” First pioneered in 1992 by the Charlotte Observer, a citizens agenda is a radical yet simple approach to campaign coverage. It starts with a question: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?” The answers should dominate the conversation and coverage of the campaign.
Personally, I want every candidate vying to be Utah’s next governor to be asked about our impending housing crisis, what an inland port is, how to improve our air quality, what investments need to be made to improve our transportation infrastructure, what can be done to achieve equal pay in the workplace, how to improve our education system, why conversion therapy is still a thing, how to bring more economic opportunity to our rural areas, and when we can all start drinking coffee without guilt or religious shame.
But it’s not my agenda. This is something we’re going to have to build together. And since it appears The Beehive cares about what’s going to happen over the next 20 years, we’re asking our readers a simple question: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?”
Send us a message us on social media or email us your thoughts at TheBeehive@TheBeehive.com. We’ll compile your responses and draft an agenda that will guide us throughout our coverage of the upcoming campaign.