By Joseph Delli Gatti
Until I was 28, I had no idea about how politics worked, how to get involved, or even how to vote. I had political opinions, but none that actually found a place beyond the expression of my lips. Talking politics does very little unless it’s in the proper setting. 2004 was the year that George W. Bush was reelected as the US president and that John Huntsman Jr. was elected as Utah’s governor.
My first experience with politics was in 2004, when a friend of mine approached me and offered me tickets to a grass roots event at Utah Valley State College (now UVU). Several people announced their intention to run for political office. While the event was very local, it was attended by a few thousand people – including top members of Utah government.
There we heard speeches as we ate buffet ribs and corn. It was a lot of fun – like a giant formal mingle. They handed out bumper stickers and passed around signup sheets for people to volunteer assistance to the upcoming campaigns.
Later, I learned that the community is actually divided into districts. Each district has party representatives for the Democrats, the Republicans, and other smaller parties. By going to www.utah.gov, you can locate voter info which lets know what district you’re in and who your party leaders are. I found out when the next meeting was going to lieu, and took my wife to a nearby high school. All the parties were meeting that day.
In that meeting, people volunteered to be local and state representatives. The small group of about 20 people voted on these volunteers. The ones who were elected would have an important role in voting for the group in preliminary elections. Hopefully that person would represent the neighborhood by voting for our favorite candidate. However, they reserve the right to vote for whichever governmental candidate they desire. Of course, if they vote for the wrong candidate, they might not be chosen to represent our group next time.
I volunteered to help a friend who was heavily involved in the governor campaign for Marty Stevens. I helped set up signs at the Utah State Republican Convention where the Republican primary elections were to take place. The primary elections are where the individual political parties finalize their candidates to run in the final election.
I also learned some of the basic political stances of Mr. Stevens, and helped to inform the attending local and state reps about him, and encouraged them to vote for Marty. Marty Stevens had an aura of goodness about him and took a hard stance for what he believed in.
At the convention, I met several of the candidates. I was happy to be supporting the best candidate. When the votes were counted at the end of the day, Marty had about 11 percent of the votes. John Huntsman won. Because Utah is a Republican state, John Huntsman was basically assured the governor seat before the final election ever took place (see The Truth About Politically Extreme States).
After that event, all registered voters voted between the two final candidates: one Republican, one Democrat. At the same time, and on the same ballot, were proposed legislation and presidential candidates. Of course John Huntsman Jr. did win the election. He has done a wonderful job as Utah’s governor and does a good job of keeping his campaign promises.
Since that first election, I have participated fairly actively as a paid and volunteer campaigner. I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of Utah’s leaders and politically influential people. One campaign that I helped out with got Orem Utah’s first first woman state representative (Lori Fowlke) elected. It’s always a good feeling to see your candidate win.
Many states have rules about how much time must pass from the time someone registers to vote and a final election. When you register to vote, it’s good to follow these steps:
- Begin with plenty of time before an election (ie. now)
- Study out the manifestos of the parties that you’re interested in
- Call your local government offices to find out what district you belong to
- Find out where you need to go to register to vote
- Register and select your *party affiliation
- Vote on voting days
*Your party affiliation determines which local party meetings that you attend and who you can vote for in the primaries.
So, Get Involved
One way to choose your affiliation is to write down your vital political beliefs and choose a system for ranking them by importance. Compare those to the stances or platforms of the various political parties. Choose to join the party that most closely resembles your beliefs and convictions.
Another way to choose your affiliation is to find out which party dominates in your state or community. Either method you choose has its good and bad points. Either way, don’t worry too much. If you change your mind, you can change your affiliation at the same location that you register to vote. Just make sure you do it with adequate time before important elections.
Go to the community-level party meetings and participate. Go to community planning meetings, political open houses, and town-hall meetings. In the town-hall meetings I’ve been to, the room is usually relatively empty. Some people don’t care to be extremely active, and a lot of people don’t have the time available. Find a balance that works for you. For many people, voting is enough.
To get involved in a campaign, contact your local College Republicans, College Democrats, or visit a campaign site. You may end up assisting in a campaign by putting a sign in your yard, encouraging others in your community to put signs in their yards, by knocking doors and encouraging people to vote, by making phone calls, by attending political events, handing out flyers, etc.
Banners, signs, TV commercials, and phone messages are all big media techniques. Internet sites, mass eMailings, and FaceBook/MySpace accounts have also become popular tools for campaigns. If you have a skill in any of these things, contact the campaign manager and find out if they need anything like that. There are a lot of paid jobs in campaigns as well.
Most important, in my mind, is to have fun and enjoy your involvement. It doesn’t need to be a traumatic event – even if your candidate loses. Support your local, state, and national elected officials in whatever way you feel that you can.