View videos of delegates Kameron Simmons, above, Marla Howard, middle left, and Judy Moore, below left, speaking about the issues.
SALT LAKE CITY — This Saturday, almost 7,000 Republican and Democratic state party delegates will meet to nominate candidates in key races including U.S. Senate, Congress and governor.
To better understand the work delegates do, the Deseret News and KSL-TV assembled a panel of eight men and women representing a range of political views, ages and backgrounds. Five are first-time delegates.
They come from all four congressional districts and five counties along the Wasatch Front. They gathered recently at the KSL studios to talk about their experiences and share their opinions on the candidates.
The purpose of the delegate panel is to give readers and viewers insight into a process that's been criticized for limiting voter participation. Most voters won't have a say in choosing party nominees, unless there is a primary election.
This election year, polls show that delegates are more moderate, with most being elected for the first time. Many responded to a call from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to participate in the March party caucus meetings, where delegates were selected.
Others were recruited by candidates, especially Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who faces a tough intraparty challenge from former state lawmaker Dan Liljenquist in his bid for a seventh term.
The rancor from just two years ago, when delegates ousted longtime Sen. Bob Bennett at the GOP state convention, appears to have dissipated. Now, incumbents like Republican Gov. Gary Herbert are seen as having more support.
Following are highlights from the delegate panel discussion with Utah delegates Kristen Price, Daryl Acumen, Judy Moore, Kameron Simmons, Gil Miller, Rosemary Young, Marla Howard and Sam Johnson:
Why did you get involved?
Rosemary: One of the reasons why I wanted to be a delegate, a state delegate, is because I hadn't been happy with what I perceived was going on at the state convention. Being too far to the right, from the way, from where I stand, and I wanted to make a difference.
Gil: I was concerned about the caucus going too far to the right and I wanted someone on there that thought perhaps a little bit more moderately.
Judy: I feel like there's been too much compromise on principles and I feel like we need principled leadership. And I feel like a moderate position is actually a position that goes to the other side … I found some principles, some things I could believe in, unite people and so I got excited and for the first time registered as a Republican.
Marla: One of the reasons I switched parties was I felt the Republican Party was being manipulated. The political aspects (of) the Republican Party really was turning me off. So I made the choice to get involved on the Democratic side, getting out there and learning more about the issues at hand — not taking a passive stance like a lot of other people have.
Sam: I have a lot more hope for the Democrats in this state than I think a lot of other people do. I feel like a lot of people are really turned off by the polarized attitude of this state and how severely Republican it has become.
Kristen: As I shared information with those sitting around me (at the caucus meeting), they wanted me to run for delegate and nominated me. I found that maybe I'm a political junkie. … But I also went into this with a very open mind.
What has it been like being a delegate?
Daryl: I've been through this a couple of times. Not as a delegate, but going to conventions and working with candidates, so it's pretty much what I expected.
Kameron: I didn't even really fully grasp the fact that I would be dedicating as much time, meeting with candidates specifically and stuff like that, so it's been a lot more than what I originally thought it would be.
Gil: They (candidates) suddenly care about what you're saying, which is new. I've found them to be open. They are responsive to questions. It's appealing to me to be able to meet with them one-on-one, which I've done in many instances.
I feel like I know my neighborhood pretty well, and what their concerns are. And even though I may not share all of their opinions, I believe I can represent them.
Kristen: I've only had one phone call (from neighbors) and I hope that they will contact me. … I'm finding that right now, most of the people that want to talk to me are other delegates. I hope that some more of my neighbors will ask me more questions.
I try to schedule to see these people, these candidates more than once. I like to throw out some hard questions … they have to stop and think, and watch their reactions and watch what they're doing. Because to me, I want their experience and skill set, but their heart is what I'm judging.
Rosemary: (I'm) not stressed, but it's very time-consuming. I'm getting lots of emails. From the party, from the candidates letting me know about schedules and things that are coming up and I check those regularly because I want to attend these events.
Marla: It is from the standpoint that I want to do a good job. I feel that I not only represent the Democrats in my neighborhood, but I also represent the Republicans in my neighborhood because when it comes down to it, there's going to be two choices in November.
There's a certain amount of responsibility to get through the rhetoric and really find the issues and really find out where these people stand, where these candidates stand on an issue.
Why do you support the caucus/convention system?
Judy: There is some wisdom in keeping (out) the emotion of the day and the passion of the moment. It's good to keep the system immune from that. I feel like the caucus system is kind of a microcosm of our bigger representative system.
Kameron: I think the caucus system's great. I think that's what Utah politics is all about. Ninety percent of my friends couldn't tell you who either of our senators are. I think there's a huge problem with undereducated voting, especially among younger constituents.
I think putting people out there who are willing to go out and educate themselves to make the right decision, for what they feel for Utah, for their precinct, for whatever, I think it's an absolutely great system.
Daryl: If they've (candidates) got the right ideas and they can articulate it and they've got solutions, then they actually have a chance to get on the ticket, maybe even carry the nomination right out of the convention.
The system isn't dominated with people with 5 or 6 million dollars in their war chest. They actually have to defend to 4,000 educated and well-researched delegates. I feel like in California (where I've lived), it's really difficult to break in. If I wanted to run for Congress in California, I wouldn't have a shot because I'm not an insider and I'm not a millionaire.
What do you look for in a candidate?
Kameron: What I want to know when I'm talking to a candidate, and I've spent time with both Hatch and Liljenquist, I try to get as much time personally just because what I want to determine is their ability to work with people.
Despite what your record is, despite what your position is, you're going to have to be able to deal with people who are ideologically different than you are, and that's one of the biggest things I see.
Gil: Our forefathers didn't agree on much. They worked their tails off trying to get a Constitution in place, etc. But they got it done. I'm tired of not getting anything done. And for the last two years at least, it feels as though the aisles have gotten further apart. And they need to come together.
It doesn't mean you have to compromise your principles, but it does meant that you have to decide your opinions might not be any better than the next guy's opinions. And you have to be able to recognize that and that they have opinions, too.
Sam: I think that in Utah it's especially necessary because if you want to get any of your legislation through, you have to compromise quite a bit, it seems from the Democratic side, at least.
I think it's necessary. We need a two-party system for things to work well. We need the views of all sorts of different people.
Daryl: They have the same basic values and principles in a lot of cases. You have to make the decision on their skill sets and their experience, not based on their ideas and values. In those cases, you make the decision not based on what they believe necessarily but what they bring to the table.
U.S. Senate race
Rosemary: All Orrin Hatch has going for him is his seniority and for me that's not enough.
Daryl: I think we have five years to fix taxes and entitlements. And those debates are going to happen in the Senate Finance Committee. If you don't have a seat at the table to actually participate in those debates and those discussions, honestly, you're not doing me a whole lot of good.
(Hatch) will be on the committee so the question is, do we have someone who has a seat at the table … or someone who's sitting out in the hallway as a cheerleader for the policies we want?
Kameron: If I had to vote today, it would be for Liljenquist. I see Liljenquist being totally capable of being a (Kentucky Sen.) Rand Paul … a (Florida Sen.) Marco Rubio in the Senate, then I think that's the best of both worlds for me. And I think he's an impressive guy who could get some change done.
Judy: I get concerned when a candidate says that he has so much power that we can't do without him. I think the government was set up so that we can have a distribution of power. And I worry also what's happening in the Senate that supposedly one man can have so much influence and power and so I think the way to change those things is to change who you send.
Kristen: It's tradition for (Hatch) to be the next in line (for the Senate Finance Committee chairmanship), but the House changed that. They don't do it that way anymore. The Senate could change that at any time. It's not a given. And the Republicans would also have to take back the majority in the Senate for it to even be a consideration. So he's running on that really strongly, but to me that's his only leg.
Utah governor's race
Kameron: I'm liking the guy with what I feel is the most impressive job background who for me is David Kirkham.
Sam: (Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Peter Cooke is a really good guy. I think that he appeals to Utah. He has sort of a Utah face and Utah qualities.
I saw a poster with the governor saying the four cornerstones of Utah and education was No. 1. But they don't treat it like that, and so I'd really like that changed.
Kristen: (Quoting Herbert) "It's not because the federal government is intruding in our lives, it's because they're not doing their job." I think they are intruding in our lives and (that comment) bothered me.
4th Congressional District race
Judy: I had heard he is controversial, I heard how polarizing he is. I expected this big meathead, pounding his chest and I went in and was immediately taken back by how inviting he was, how friendly he was, reasonable. I liked his record and that person's Carl Wimmer.
Kristen: He (Wimmer) is very personable, very personable. He is one of my favorites. I'm also looking very heavily at Mia Love. She is an incredible, incredible woman, who I think would represent Utah in an amazing way.
Marla: (I'm) a little bit (worried about Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson's chances in the new 4th District). But I think he has a really strong record and if people really get in and investigate, I think he'll put it out and win.
2nd Congressional District race
Rosemary: It really is a hard one. And I'm not sure where I'm coming down. I have leaned toward (Dave) Clark and Chris Stewart. But it's true as you go and hear them talk, you do kind of stand back and say, 'I'm not quite ready to make a decision yet.'
Gil: I need someone that has a backbone. And so right now I'll tell you I'm leaning towards Chris Stewart in this 2nd District. I need a military guy to win this fiscal war.
Views on the presidential race
Gil: From a career perspective, I should vote for President (Barack) Obama because it's been a great ride the last three years for troubled companies. From … just my gut, I can't do it. I will definitely be supporting Gov. Romney, especially because I believe he has work experience.
Kameron: (Romney is) a manager, right? And any direction that the people point him in, he's going to get things done, which is exactly what I want to see. Whether or not he's the most well-spoken, or doesn't make gaffs all the time, isn't the (issue).
Judy: I would like to see a new president and I'm a Ron Paul supporter. And so the big question is if the Ron Paul supporters are going to support the Republican nomination and I have yet to decide that.
Marla: At the end of the day, I'm going to vote my conscience on that. I'm not going straight party on anything. It really comes down to the candidate and the individual that will do the best job.
View videos of delegates Kameron Simmons, above, Marla Howard, middle left, and Judy Moore, below left, speaking about the issues.