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Jim Dabakis: Open letter to new Democratic state party chair

People gather for the Utah Democratic Party State Organizing Convention at Weber State University in Ogden on Saturday, June 17, 2017.
People gather for the Utah Democratic Party State Organizing Convention at Weber State University in Ogden on Saturday, June 17, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Congratulations Daisy Thomas on your election as the Utah state Democratic Party chair last weekend. In 2011, when I was elected chair, I found there is no manual. You are on your own. So, Daisy, here are a few words culled from my three years on the 24/7 party merry-go-round.

Make friends with our guys and theirs. You will love Utah Democrats — all across Utah — but don't forget all the "other" good people across our beautiful state. When I was serving, the GOP chair was Thomas Wright. In our first few encounters, we circled each other cautiously, but it didn't take long for us to strike up a genuine friendship. We traveled the state together. In countless joint appearances — most of them debates — Thomas and I arrived in the same car. As we drove far and near, we talked. Not just about politics or policy — that only lasts so long on the drive to Moab. Mostly we chatted about family and work. It was normal friend talk. We got to know each other outside of the political blah-blah world. Sometimes we even worked together, as on a vote-by-mail law.

We would have a great drive and on arrival, together we would pop out of the car to find our supporters sometimes puzzled — even angry — that we had come together. Perhaps they thought that us traveling together and being friends was some kind of disavowal of our party. A betrayal. But once we stepped onto the debate stage, we took on our armor. We went at it tooth and nail, but never personally. After the political brutality, we would shake hands all around and jump back into the car for the ride home together.

I recall one debate in particular, held at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. It was 2012 and the hot debate was Obama vs. Romney. After many such meetings, Thomas and I knew each other’s shtick. Just before the debate started, Thomas leaned over, and with a twinkle in his eye whispered, “Jim just trust me.”

To my surprise, he stood up before the students with passion and energy, and gave MY pro-Obama speech in his five-minute opening! The stunned students sat in silence as the GOP party chair and close Romney family friend opened by saying something like, “Clearly President Barack Obama deserves another four years as one of America's greatest presidents.”

Following his lead, I got up, and, without breaking a beat, glowed about Mitt Romney's greatness for five minutes! That, my friends, took faith and trust! To the befuddlement of the students, after our opening statements, Thomas and I seamlessly reverted to our normal positions.

Daisy, remember that there are so many more things we share as Americans than things we don’t agree about. We must not only dwell on the differences, we need to celebrate our common love for America and Utah. We need to remind everyone that our shared core values have created the greatest country on earth.

As for Thomas, he has gone on to be the Republican national committeeman representing Utah. I feel good about that. And frankly, there are a lot of Democrats I would pass up to vote for Thomas Wright.

Finally, Daisy, have fun. Smile, be happy, and don't take yourself too seriously. We only have a short time (except Orrin) to get in the ring and make whatever mark we can. If it's not fun along the way, find another way to contribute.

Sen. Jim Dabakis was Utah Democratic Party chair for three years before he was elected to the Senate. He represents Salt Lake City.