While the valley of dissent between Republicans and Democrats seems to be getting deeper nationally, there was an interesting gathering in a mid-sized room at the Wilkinson Student Center on Tuesday.
The BYU Political Science Department hosted a panel, “Is Partisanship a Problem: Perspectives for America and Latter-day Saints,” on Jan. 24. Six distinguished speakers active in politics and their LDS faith were invited, including a former Utah governor and former Senate candidates. The room was full of students and local community members.
“Many voters today are identifying themselves not as partisans but as independents,” said Richard Davis, a BYU political science professor and moderator for the panel. “That may be part of this trend to get away from parties thinking that parties are inherently negative. On the other hand, partisanship is still a very powerful concept. It still drives what people do when they go and vote; it certainly affects the government.”
After Davis’ introduction, each speaker made their own statement about partisanship.
“I became a Republican when I was seven years old,” said Jeanette Hales Beckham, former Utah state representative, remembering the 1940s and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. She also served as the LDS general Young Women’s president.
Beckham shared the story of how her husband encouraged her to run for the state legislature while they were doing dishes together, and of how he died of cancer shortly thereafter. She emphasized the importance of people getting involved, especially young people. Beckham said most people want the same outcome and the parties just have different plans for how to accomplish it.
Karen Hale, former state senator and vice‐chair of the Utah Democratic Party, quoted former U.S. Sen. John Glenn.
“Politics is literally the personal system for democracy,” she said.
Hale shared the story of her friendship with Olean Walker, the former governor of Utah from 2003 – 2005, and her political opponent for the lieutenant governor candidacy in 2000.
“If you want to participate in politics, you may need to affiliate with a party,” Hale said. “Certainly one party will not encompass or represent all your beliefs. You will need to select the party with which you most identify. For me, that party is the Democrat party. For Olean, that party is Republican. We are still friends.”
After an hour and half-long session, the room was crowded with people asking questions, shaking hands and exchanging hugs with the speakers.
One popular speaker surrounded by many students was Scott Howell, former Utah Senate minority leader and 2000 U.S. Senate candidate, who represented Democrats in the panel, wearing a blue-striped shirt and red socks. He said one reason for wearing this is because his children go to both U of U and BYU, but it also showed his support for both the Democratic and Republican parties, especially with regard to civility in government today.
“I think that scriptures have taught me moderation in all things, and I think where we get in trouble is when we have extreme right or extreme left,” Howell said. “I really try to emulate the footsteps of the Savior when I’m in a policy position by listening to all the viewpoints. And I think it’s that medium ground that you really find the best.”
When asked how young college students can get involved in and change current disharmony and disbelief in politics, former Utah Gov. Olean Walker said the presidential vote in November is not the most important part.
“If you want to be a decision maker, if you’re 18, I’d love to see the 18 to 30 really get involved and have masses of that age group making decisions and discussing issues,” Walker said. “I think it could make a huge difference. It would be the great day because we need the new blood, we need creative thinking, we need energy and willingness to work to solve the problems in the state.”
David Franklin Skanchy, a BYU student majoring in physiology and developmental biology, was in the crowd that attentively listened to the speakers.
“I think a lot of people come into BYU or growing up in Utah that always relate the Church with Republicans,” Skanchy said. “And it was really neat to see a different opinion of people who really show how under the right circumstances that Church lives can be displayed in both platforms, both parties. I think it was a really good eye-opener.”