We’ve heard a lot this campaign season about playing the gender card or race card. But there’s another kind of card-playing that is unique to highly conservative areas, such as Utah County, Utah: playing the “Democrat card.” This is the story of a Utah County Republican who is playing the Democrat card in order to distract voters from the real issues surrounding his campaign for reelection.

Republican Stephen D. Clark, a four-term representative for Utah House District 63 (East Provo), has never had a challenger printed next to his name on a November ballot.

Until now.

Donald K. Jarvis, a higher education consultant, former BYU professor and administrator, and former LDS mission president, is taking on Clark this year as his Democrat counterpart. Jarvis considers himself “a different kind of Democrat,” though. He is a social and fiscal conservative who is a proud champion of the values of traditional families and the rights of the unborn. In fact, Jarvis says that if he were running in Massachusetts, he would run as a Republican.

There are, however, enormous differences between Jarvis and most Republicans in the Utah legislature. Jarvis is fighting for issues that the ultra-conservative, Republican-dominated legislature has not taken seriously: ethics reform, adequate funding for public education (including Utah Valley University), improved environmental measures, and more affordable health care coverage (see Jarvis’ website). Jarvis is also the first House candidate in a long time to make a sincere and concerted effort to reach out to the BYU students who make up the majority of the district’s population (one of Jarvis’ campaign slogans is “Students Matter”).

What is Steve Clark’s number one case for himself in this election? You guessed it. He’s drawing attention to the R next to his name. This is evident in Clark’s red campaign signs that read, “Join Republican Stephen Clark” as well as his short website video where he makes it very clear that he is running [in slow, accentuated speech] “as a Republican.” Clark’s tactics are hardly surprising in a state as historically red as Utah.

What is repugnant, however, is Clark’s playing of the Democrat card in his recent blog post, “Distinguishing Republicans from Democrats in Utah.” Clark begins by saying,

It is only fair that candidates be honest and declare their party affliation [sic] beyond the ballot designation on election day. The voters need to know which party the candidates represent because party affliation [sic] is a good indicator of a person’s persuasion.

Here Clark is taking issue with the fact that Utah County Democratic candidates, including Jarvis, “do not use the party name or logo in their presentations or literature.” Clark’s observation is correct, but he appears to be quite out of touch concerning these matters. The reality is that most politicians do not include their party name or logo — and for good reason. They are running in a general election and thus are seeking for the votes of people across parties and persuasions. This is why you don’t see “Republican” or “Democrat” all over John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s advertisements and literature. Same thing for hundreds of state and local political campaigns across the nation. These politicians, like Jarvis, are seeking to be the representatives of all their constituents, not just those in their own party. These politicians seek to focus on real issues and strive to bring our country together, rather than drive us further apart with divisive labels.

But Clark’s card-playing gets much worse. He argues,

If you are a Utah County Democrat you are a standard bearer of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi and John Edwards.

Apparently, for Clark, all Democrats must be basically the same. If you’re a local Democrat, even a Mormon Democrat in Utah County, you must be the same as those radical pro-choice liberals in Washington (of course, Clark neglects to mention pro-life, pro-family national LDS Democrats such as Jim Matheson and Harry Reid).

There are big problems with Clark’s assumptions here, which I touch on below.

Clark continues:

Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3 that defined marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman was nearly defeated because a 2/3 vote was needed in the House and Senate to make changes to the constitution. In the Senate the amendment passed by one vote. All Republicans voted for the Amendment and all Democrats voted against the Amendment. In the House three Democrats crossed over to pass the amendment and they paid for their defection.

Illogical scare tactics, and nothing more. What Clark fails to say is that his own opponent, Don Jarvis, is in support of traditional definitions of marriage. For this reason, Jarvis’ Democratic standing means nothing on this matter. Clark quite likely knows this, but he’s trying to take attention away from Steve Clark vs. Don Jarvis (where there appears to be little if any difference on this matter) — and turn the attention to bipolar generic boilerplates of Republican vs. Democrat.

Clark concludes with the following audacious claim (in bold):

Republicans have provided protections to traditional families since they took over in 1970. If Utah County Democrat [sic] cannot take over and control their party in Utah, trading Republicans with Democrats will only weaken these protections. Why take this risk?

This is ridiculous. Clark is exaggerating the power of party politics to make voters think that any Republican is better than any Democrat. Perhaps he’d be in favor of taking the politicians’ actual names off of the ballots? There are plenty of local and even national politicians who vote contrary to their party on a consistent basis. At any rate, we hardly need to worry about Amendment 3 getting overturned in Utah!

It is true, though, that if this were the only issue that mattered — if the only reason we elected and paid politicians was for them to pass occasional constitutional amendments to support traditional families — then there would be little reason to vote for a Democrat like Jarvis rather than a Republican like Clark.

But there are many more issues that matter — issues that Jarvis calls “Real Utah Values.” These values are being squelched by the ultra-conservative Utah legislature. On all counts, Jarvis proves the better, more moderate candidate. I will highlight two major areas here, education and ethics reform.

1. Education. Utah County Democrats may be downplaying their party affiliation, but this is minor compared to the way that incumbent Republicans, including Clark, are downplaying how they voted for the education voucher program that was crushed by Utah voters. This program was voted down in every Utah county, as well as Clark’s district. The defeat was a clear testament to how Utah representatives have grown out of touch with the values of their constituents. Fortunately, Utah voters saw what vouchers would do: damage public schools and diminish the middle class. Voters saw vouchers as a distraction from Utah politicians’ failed commitment to our public schools. Jarvis, on the other hand, is willing to do what a majority of Utah voters want: to pay our school teachers what they are worth, and to rid Utah of its embarrassing teacher salary rating (45th in the nation, in spite of having the highest number of students per teacher). Clark, on the other hand, has earned low ratings from public educators (an average rating of 26% since 2001, including a 0% ranking in 2002). Do we really want to keep this man in office? To borrow Clark’s own words, “Why take this risk?”

2. Ethics Reform. It is refreshing to see Republicans and Democrats alike speak out for ethics reform. Sadly, the Utah legislature remains “the best legislature money can buy,” with over 98% of campaign finance for incumbents coming from special interest groups. Jarvis will fight for the change we need (and 3/4 of Utahns want) in this regard, and will strive to shake things up in Salt Lake City. And Clark? Well, it’s hard to fight for ethics reform when you are wedded to special interests. Most notably, Clark – like many Utah legislators – is uninterested in conflict-of-interest reform because he, though a member of the IHC health care board, has been on a task force that has handled several bills and discussions on IHC (“Tempers flare at IHC talks,” Deseret Morning News, 22 July 05). As of now, “Legislators are … allowed to serve on committees that deal with their occupations, introduce legislation that would be to their benefit, and even hop over the committee table and testify on matters that serve their self-interest” (Editorial, “Conflict of Interest,” Salt Lake Tribune, 1 Feb 08). Don Jarvis — not Steve Clark — would fight to end these conflicts of interest that plague our political process.

I could go on and talk about how Jarvis is the superior candidate in terms of managing Utah’s growth. I encourage voters to consult Jarvis’ website for more information.

I cannot fail to mention, however, Steve Clark’s low productivity rate. In the 2008 session, Clark attended only 63.5 percent of his committee meetings, making him 90th out of 100 total legislators. Clark also had a 33% pass rate (2 of his 6 proposed bills passed), ranking him 56th out of 71 legislators. Maybe he needs a rest. Why take the risk of reelecting a representative whose energy appears to be waning, especially one who hasn’t prioritized our public schools or ethics reform, not to mention such details as cleaner air or alternative energy?

It is time for Utah County voters to show that they’re not willing to be swindled by candidates who wave a Republican sign in their faces. It is time for voters to follow the example of Gordon B. Hinckley, who “voted for men [Republicans and Democrats] and not party.” And it is time for Clark’s constituents to remind him that this race is not about Republican and Democrat. It is about Steve Clark and Don Jarvis.

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