Candidates for national office campaigned in person for students’ votes and political participation at the BYU Political Involvement Fair on Sept. 10.
The event was designed to help students get to know candidates and become involved in their campaigns in preparation for election day on Nov. 6.
“We just ached to have students more involved,” said Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, referring to his time as mayor of Provo. Curtis now represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He is seeking re-election.
Curtis’ Democratic Party opponent James Singer, agreed. “Not being political is making a political choice,” he said.
Other candidates who attended the fair included 3rd district seat candidate and United Utah Party member Tim Zeidner and Democratic Utah Senate candidate Jenny Wilson.
Wilson’s Republican opponent, former Massachusetts governor and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did not attend. However, members of his campaign represented him at the event.
Each candidate who attended explained their political positions and emphasized the policies they considered important to BYU students.
Making his pitch to attendees, Curtis cited his time as Provo’s mayor and his record working with diverse stakeholders, naming developers and environmentalists in political contests over public lands as examples.
He mentioned the San Rafael Swell, a geologic formation in south-central Utah, as an example of an issue he is currently dealing with. Curtis recently proposed the creation of a national monument in that area.
According to his campaign website, Curtis believes in “protecting the land while also providing access for grazing, recreation, hunting, energy development and other uses.”
Curtis said the controversy over the use of this land could affect BYU students, whom he described as passionate about outdoor recreation.
Curtis encouraged students to participate in town hall meetings he holds both in person and through social media channels like Instagram and Facebook Live.
He said he loves working with students and calls BYU a “second home.” Curtis said he learned to work closely with BYU students during his time as Provo’s mayor, relying on their support for issues like bus rapid transit and public lands.
Singer differs from Curtis on the issue of public lands. On his written platform, Singer calls for public lands to be better protected. According to Singer, Utah’s current land policy is “categorically undemocratic and poor environmental stewardship.”
Another policy area Singer identified as one he thinks BYU students are likely to care about is college debt.
Singer is a professor of sociology at Salt Lake Community College and community leadership at Westminster College. However, he is also a self-described “older millennial” with $50,000 in student debt.
He said he believes in tuition-free education from preschool to college and that doing so will increase social mobility. He also said he wants to forgive college debt for firefighters and other people who perform public service.
Singer outlined three “avenues of change” students could take to help their communities: seeking elected office, engaging in activism and policy work.
“Everything is political,” he said. “There are ways to get involved politically. Even if politics isn’t your niche.”
He encouraged students to be “things to act and not things to be acted upon,” referencing 2 Nephi 2:14.
He also referenced his Navajo background. If elected in November, he will be the first Native American to represent Utah in Congress.
Zeidner, a third party candidate, is also aiming to make history. No third-party candidate has ever won a national congressional race in the state of Utah.
According to the United Utah Party’s website, the party was founded in 2017 by moderate Republicans and Democrats who were dissatisfied by increasing partisanship.
He identified issues he advocates for that he said are relevant to BYU students, such as government reform, term limits, and ranked-choice voting and measures to decrease the influence of lobbyists.
Zeidner said he agreed to run “to reach this (students) demographic.” In his view, he said young people identify more with causes than with institutions, including political parties.
“Get involved locally,” he said. “Then, steadily expand your scope of interest to understand underlying causes.”
At this point, Zeidner explained, it becomes possible to address the political problems where they begin, contributing real solutions to society. Zeidner proposed students begin with causes they are most interested in.
Policy disagreements among candidates extended beyond the 3rd Congressional District race. Wilson noted the importance of causes for student voters. She said her position on health care and other “quality of life issues” has the potential to affect BYU students.
“The federal government has failed us,” she said. “The Utah I knew is in jeopardy.”
According to Wilson, issues like air quality require “new solutions.”
Romney, who was not present, differs from Wilson in several policy areas. According to his campaign website, Romney supports repealing the Affordable Care Act. Instead, Romney supports “market-based incentives to reduce costs,” which include increased transparency in the medical industry.
Wilson said she opposes such a repeal.
Immigration is another area where Romney and Wilson have differing opinions.
According to his platform, Romney does not support a “special pathway to citizenship” for children affected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
In contrast, Wilson’s campaign website asserts the importance of a path to citizenship.
“Political involvement takes effort,” said Richard Davis, director of BYU’s Office of Civic Engagement Leadership. “You need to do some homework.”
Davis said he hoped the Political Involvement Fair would make involvement easier for students.
According to Davis, the Political Involvement Fair was the third of its kind BYU has hosted during an election year. Davis’ office was responsible for organizing the event and for inviting candidates to attend. The event was designed to help students connect with involvement opportunities.
Mabel Wheeler, a freshman studying statistics, said she initially found the event “intimidating,” but was grateful for the chance she had to help organize the event as part of BYU’s Political Affairs Society.
Kennedy Garratt, also a member of BYU Political Affairs Society, agreed. “People don’t realize how much people actually have in common,” she said.
Garratt said she hopes events like the Political Involvement Fair will help bring people together despite political disagreements.
Students and other citizens can register to vote online at voter.utah.gov. Voters must be registered at least seven days before election day to participate. This year, Election Day is on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Richard Davis, the director of BYU’s Office of Civic Engagement Leadership, explains the Political Involvement Fair. Davis’ office organized the event. (Lexie Flickinger)