Look at the political environment in the state. A Republican Attorney General plagued by allegations of influence peddling and just last week it was announced that Republican Lt. Governor Greg Bell is under investigation for allegedly interfering with a DCFS investigation.
If ever there was an opportunity for Utah’s minority party to make some political hay, this is it.
Utah’s Democrats have been screaming about ethics for years, but they’ve been largely AWOL on the issue this time around. Sure they started a petition to prompt an investigation into the John Swallow situation, and some Democratic legislators tried to hijack a hearing to put Swallow on the hot seat, but the ethics reform proposals on the Hill this session are coming from Republicans.
Democrats can’t find time to hold a press conference airing their concerns about the Swallow issue? Really? It’s not like they’d be stepping out on a limb. Three newspapers and a former legislator have already called for Swallow to step down.
The job of the party to get Democrats elected. In order to do that, you need to give voters a reason to vote for your candidate. These two stories should be manna from heaven for Democrats. They’re simple to message. They are potentially salacious. They are interesting. But the opportunity to be a part of the story is slipping away.
The secret is to be a political opportunist without looking like you want to be a political opportunist. Timing is everything. If Democrats wait too long, which I think they have, they look like they’re jumping on the bandwagon screaming “me too!”
Why? Look no further than the dual role played by Senator and Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis.
When Dabakis joined the race to replace Ben McAdams, his opponents openly worried he wouldn’t be able to fulfil both roles. Now it looks like those fears are coming true. As party chair, Dabakis was a thorn in the side of Republicans during the HB477 debacle and the fight over redistricting documents. Being outside of the legislature allowed gave him the freedom to be a bomb thrower. Now that he’s one of 29 Senators, the rules have changed. He can’t use bombast to make a point. He has to play a political game that keeps him from leading the party on this issue. As a result, they’ve been largely silent.
That’s a shame. Democrats have an opportunity to really score some political points here. But that opportunity is fleeting.
These stories are fast-moving and require a nimble response to take full political advantage. If Democrats really want to be part of the story and add their voices to the growing criticism of Swallow and maybe Bell, they need to be able to react quickly. Snarky comments on Twitter or Facebook are not enough.
This is something that must come from the party. Legislators have a different set of rules.
Do you think if the tables were turned, and there were a scandal involving a high-ranking Democrat, Dabakis’ Republican counterpart, Utah GOP Chair Thomas Wright would be quiet? Hardly. He would likely be leading the charge. That’s something Dabakis cannot do now.
Opportunity is slipping away. Utah’s Democratic party is basically neutered while their leader spends his days on Capitol Hill playing nice with Republicans. That is something Democrats cannot afford.