Olene Walker for President
By Ken K. Gourdin
Olene Walker was Utah’s first woman governor for the all-too-brief period between the time former Governor Mike Leavitt vacated the office to accept a position as director of the Environmental Protection Agency in the administration of President George W. Bush and his successor, Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., took office. (The younger President Bush later named Leavitt Secretary of Health and Human Services.)
Alas, the dream expressed in my title is unlikely to come to pass, for two very obvious reasons: (1) While many politicians pay lip service to the notion that they seek office to further the public good, that notion wasn’t merely “service” when it came from Governor Walker’s lips respecting the state of Utah and its inhabitants: while I didn’t know the Governor personally, by all accounts, everything she did in public service was motivated by a sincere love for the state of Utah and for its people, so there was no reason for her to an seek office that took her off of even the state’s comparatively much smaller stage (and, in contrast so some other candidates for president, especially including one particular high-profile GOP notable, she was comparatively humble, modest, and unassuming); and (2) Governor Walker passed away November 28 at the age of 85. Her much-too-short tenure as governor followed the nearly 12 years she spent as Governor Leavitt’s Lieutenant Governor.
Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly notes a crucial difference between Governor Walker and her successor, Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. Governor Walker openly and actively opposed publicly-funded vouchers that would allow parents, with state funding, to send children to the school of the parents’ choice. I’m not sure how I feel about school vouchers (and I’m not sure it matters, since I have no children and it’s unlikely I ever will). I do know that it’s hard enough to find funding for Utah’s burgeoning school population as it is, so I understand, appreciate, and respect Governor Walker’s position completely. By contrast, while Mr. Rolly notes that Governor Huntsman was no fan of vouchers in practice, since they were a hot-button issue, Mr. Huntsman was willing to play those cards as close to the vest as he had to in order to get elected. See Mr. Rolly’s commentary here, last accessed December 6, 2015: http://www.sltrib.com/home/3260638-155/rolly-remembering-olene-walker-a-governor.
Utah’s caucus-convention system of nominating candidates for public office also has been much in the news of late. Proponents of a more open, inclusive process spawned an initiative known as “Count My Vote,” through which candidates could forego the caucus-convention process in favor of gathering a specified minimum number of signatures in order to qualify to appear on the ballot. The contention is that the caucus-convention system often is hijacked by those on the extreme right wing. While I do favor a more open, inclusive process, I’ve never seen anyone kicked out of a caucus or of a convention meeting. Though I know enough to avoid saying it has never happened, or that the reason for it isn’t simply because someone refused to toe the party line, such occurrences are very rare. Most of the Republicans I know would be willing to listen even to someone who supports a candidate or position that is at odds with the views of most others in attendance—provided the individual seeking to air his views is not uncivil or disruptive.
Whatever ultimately happens to “Count My Vote,” my advice to anyone wishing to have more of a voice in the process is to go to a caucus meeting and/or volunteer to attend a convention as a delegate. If employment or other weighty commitments conflict, ask someone who shares your views to attend in your place. If you disagree with what happens there, feel absolutely free to disagree; just do so civilly and nondisruptively. And after the meeting, feel free to comment on what happened, preferably truthfully and with at least a modicum of decorum and objectivity, to anyone who will listen. (Paul Rolly probably has more than just a few such gadflies on speed-dial.) On the other hand, if you can’t be bothered to TiVo the game, put down the bag of chips, and get your butt off of the couch to go to a meeting for an hour or two, why bother to complain?
All of that is my long-winded prelude to saying that Governor Walker deserved far more support than she got at the caucuses and at the Utah Republican Convention, where she could (and probably should) have been nominated for her own term(s) as governor. The fact that she was not does not speak well of this state, of its politics, and of at least some of its people. Perhaps the high degree of political homogeneity that prevails in Utah has lulled many people into thinking that since everyone on their block thinks just as they do anyway (or at least, so the perception goes) why bother getting personally involved? The answer to that question is, so that more people like Governor Walker can do more of what’s right for Utah and for as many of its citizens as possible.
In response to news of her passing, I wrote:
As someone who leans conservative, nonetheless, I must say that one of the biggest mistakes the Utah Goofy Old Party made is kicking her to the curb in favor of the next pretty-boy heir apparent and not allowing her on the ballot to run for her own term(s) as governor. Even though, for a person whose day-to-day involvement in politics is limited, I’m something of a political junkie, that’s one of the things I don’t particularly like about politics. Too often, it’s less about what’s best for the jurisdiction (city, county, state, etc.) and more about what’s best for the particular person or party under discussion.
In more than a few ways, she was probably the best governor Utah’s ever had, so her [all-too-]short term in office doesn’t speak well of the state or of her party.
Thank you for your service, Ma’am. RIP [rest in peace]. Condolences to family and friends.
In response to someone who wrote that Utah will never have another governor of her calibre, I responded, “Maybe, but one thing’s for sure: No one will ever be the worse for trying [to emulate her]!”
Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Dan Harrie asked Governor Walker what she would like people to say about her when she’s gone, and she responded thus: “That I was kind and caring and somewhat intelligent. That I was willing to listen. And that I was not only willing to talk, but I was willing to do. That I worked my best to improve conditions for everyone in the state.” See Harrie’s full story here, accessed December 5, 2015: Dan Harrie (November 28, 2015) “’Sweet,’ ‘tough’ Olene Walker was a pioneer and an advocate for bettering lives in Utah,” The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com/home/2992498-155/olene-walker-a-utah-original-and. My take? Mission accomplished, Your Honor! (In response to that deferential form of address, even though I would argue that it is well deserved, she might demur: “I’m just Olene.”)
I commented further:
No matter how much respect I might have for any politician or pundit (including Governor Walker, whom I esteem as highly as any public official I’ve ever known), I doubt there’s a politician or a pundit who’s ever lived with whom I agree about absolutely everything. Once someone assumes office, I expect her to demonstrate backbone and brains, even if it means coming to conclusions with which I disagree. That’s why, generally, I don’t think its useful to have litmus tests for candidates, a situation I think is illustrated perfectly by Utah’s Goofy Old Party’s kicking Governor Walker to the curb. (And I apply that appellation to the party as someone who leans conservative.) She was, and would have continued to be, one of the most outstanding chief executives the state of Utah has ever had.
According to the (faulty) memory of at least one commenter, it wasn’t Governor Walker’s opposition to school vouchers that caused the Utah Republican Party to withhold its support from Walker and to support her successor, Governor Huntsman, in the next gubernatorial race, instead. No, no. Since everyone knows what misogynistic neanderthals Utahns are, it was the fact that she was a woman that drew their ire and petulance. This commenter opined that “Utah conservatives” were so upset by Governor Walker’s gender when she took office that they threatened a lawsuit. I responded:
In comments on news of her passing, I, too, have decried the way Governor Walker was treated by Utah’s Goofy Old Party. However, as someone who does lean conservative, I can tell you that I was far from upset when Governor Walker took office, as were many conservatives outside the Goofy Old Party’s “mover-and-shaker” set. While, again, I believe Governor Walker was treated deplorably, and while I could be mistaken and am open to correction, I believe the Utah Constitution provides for the Lieutenant Governor to assume the office of Governor if the latter vacates that office. It wouldn’t make sense (even for the Goofy Old Party) to threaten a lawsuit when succession to the governorship functions in exactly the manner the Utah Constitution prescribes. I would be keenly interested if you have a reference for your allegation that it prompted threats of a lawsuit.
At a campaign rally, presumptive 2016 Democrat presidential nominee, former Secretary of State, and former Senator from New York Hillary Clinton asked her supporters, “Don’t you someday want to see a woman president?” Yes, I do: I think Olene Walker would have fit that bill nicely. Would that there were more just like her.