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Opinion: I vet political candidates — here’s what I’ve learned

There are many things to consider when choosing a political candidate — but character is the most important

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A voter drops a ballot into a box at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

A voter drops a ballot into a box at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Choosing a political candidate involves many factors — and for precinct Chair Kenneth R. Hardman, the most important one is character.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Upon arrival at my first meet-and-greet, I quickly lost interest in the fresh pizza and all-you-can-eat salad bar. You might think I went to vet the free food; but no, I was vetting a political candidate to find the person who loves, with integrity, the Constitution of the United States, and will work with wisdom to sustain this great heritage. As the candidate began his pitch to the 50 or so citizens attending, I reflected on recent events that brought me there.

A few years earlier, I began reading our history more actively. Even more recently, I felt compelled to attend my community caucus meeting to exercise my right to help elect representatives. There were a couple dozen neighbors in the school classroom that night. After the pledge of allegiance, discussion, nominations and brief speeches, several county and state delegates were elected. I was elected by my peers as the precinct chair for the next two years, and as a “state delegate.” My assignment? To learn the views of my neighbors, vet the candidates, share what I learn and vote at the upcoming nominating convention.

Back at the meet-and-greet, as the pizza slowly disappeared, the candidate, an incumbent, finished his monologue, then invited our views. Multiple hands shot up and he confidently fielded passionate questions like: Why did you criticize the president on a certain issue? Why did you vote against a certain bill? Did you vote for the recent high-cost proposal? What are your goals for next term? And on-and-on.

Having chosen a seat up-front, between the remaining cold pizza and the candidate, my raised hand was prominent. He nodded to me and I asked my prepared question:

“My wife and I raised our children in this district. Like all here I have deep concerns for the immediate challenges in our country. I’ve read and agree with your position on many issues, but I would like to look underneath your views to your character. Founder, James Madison argued that, ‘a republic’ can, ‘refine and enlarge the public views by passing (those views) through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.’ Sir, what do you do each day to build and sustain your wisdom, discernment, and true interest in our country?”

With pause, and a tear in his eye he replied, “That’s perhaps the most important question. I normally wouldn’t say this, but I start and end each day with prayer asking, what I should do that day?” I was touched as he talked about his trust in God and desire to do what is best for his country and constituents. Although some of his responses were less rousing, I left that day with a generally positive impression. I continued using this question over the next several weeks as I attended similar events for other candidates.

At each event citizens came with various concerns and contrasting intensities of passion. Humble endorsements were offered by people claiming to know the candidate well. Prepared speeches were given by each candidate, men and women, who said mostly the right things about critical issues. But I was always looking for indications of character and abilities, backed by evidence.

On the day of the nominating convention, I came with thousands from across the state. I had an initial plan regarding which candidates I would vote for. However, like in football, “The ruling on the field (was) under further review.”

I visited the raucous exhibit hall and booth of each candidate, looked into their eyes and heard their voices once again. I entered the voting hall early and exchanged opinions with a half dozen other delegates. I replayed each cottage meeting in my mind looking for reasons to overturn my initial decisions. I found honorable qualities in each candidate, and also a flaw or two, like in all of us.

Immediately prior to casting my vote, each candidate took to the podium one more time. I said a silent prayer, and this simple question came to mind, “Ken, who do you really want to represent you and your neighbors for the next term? Who do you really want to see in the halls of congress?” I thought deeply. Then the capabilities and qualities of a particular candidate displaced the others in my mind. “After further review,” my initial call was overturned. I then cast my vote.

When results were tallied, my vote coincided with the popular vote that day. I was a little surprised, but it was reassuring that others in the assembly felt as I did. I’m eager to watch the candidates I voted for move forward in their various races, demonstrate their patriotism and preserve the heritage I hold dear.

Neighbors and fellow citizens, like you, I am busy with family, employment, church and other pursuits. I was able to repurpose a little time recently and move toward more reading, doing and influencing. I invite you to do the same. My first time as a representative of my community convinced me that individuals can make a difference. May I encourage each of us to participate civilly and peacefully in this great cause.

Kenneth R. Hardman is precinct chair and state delegate charged to vet candidates on the ballot. He currently resides in Pleasant Grove, Utah.