I am often asked why I decided to run for Congress. I believed 2020 was always going to be a referendum on Donald Trump – on Trumpism as a whole and Trumpists in particular. All those politicians who have facilitated Donald Trump’s policies of division and demeaning personal conduct – toward our international allies and individual Americans via his Twitter feed and corrosive public comments.
I consider incumbent Chris Stewart, my Republican opponent, to be the definition of a Trumpist, voting 95% of the time with the Trump agenda. Let’s also recall: Stewart called candidate Trump “our Mussolini” – a comment that seems to have cost him the job of Director of National Intelligence.
Put differently: I am running to help bring to an end the poisonous politics of the last four years so that, in January, our country can begin to rebuild and repair.
What was always going to be an important election year became even more so when COVID swept across our state and country. Our campaign went on life support, fundraisers disappeared, and for several months, in-person gatherings were impossible. Still, over time, our team and I decided to meet voters where they live in a district that is half the state geographically. We hit the road in late May. Since then, I have travelled over 6,000 miles in my 2003 Tacoma, including a trek to Callao, tracing the old Pony Express Trail, which cost me quite a bit in truck repairs. This map shows all the places our campaign has been, most stops more than once:
It is now two weeks to Election Day. Many voters have shared their stories with me. Their voices and stories are inscribed in my mind. Utahns are hurting. Families are worried about a failed healthcare system tied to employment, which still bankrupts too many. Small businesses, including many dependent on red rock wilderness tourism, have had to lay off employees. The mental health resource challenges remain throughout CD2, especially in rural areas. And water levels are drying up across our region.
Other campaign highlights include a caller who left me voicemail out of the blue. For the first few minutes after I returned the call, he thought I was Chris Stewart … until he realized I agreed with him that our healthcare system was fundamentally broken. A Salt Lake high school student asked insightful questions about Afghanistan and how the U.S. balances our stated values versus realpolitik foreign policy considerations. One memorable email came from a Trump supporter, who bluntly criticized me for putting radio ads (including regarding Downwinders – which my dad is – and the U.S. Postal Service) on conservative talk radio in rural Utah. To his surprise, I wrote him back, but am sure I will not get his vote.
A friend overseas perceptively put it this way in a recent conversation, after I provided an update on the campaign and our grueling pace: “Kael, the issue is you are in love with your country.” I had never thought of it that way, but it is true. Breaking up is hard to do, particularly with a country I officially represented for almost eleven years in the U.S. State Department, including seven consecutive years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I want to believe we are one nation, indivisible, and still fighting for liberty and justice – for all.
Whatever the democratic verdict on November 3rd, I trust the people. We Democrats in Utah are giving voters a real choice in 2020. In doing so, we can get back to a point where two parties compete, fairly and in the hard places too. Utah Democrats, after all, will never take a voter for granted, because we cannot.
I received two special notes, one from a former Topaz Internment Camp “resident” and another, from a supporter in Iron County. I want to give them the last word. Their messages still resonate with me – and will for a long time:
Dear Kael san,
LOVE your “logo” — Whomsoever designed it is a genius. Wish I could vote for you from California. However, I shall send my support as a former resident of your 2nd district, ’42-’45 Topaz, during WW II. I feel obligated to send my support to such a person of compassion for all people as you are. May they all see your potential to lead us back to “normal?”
I am a retired housewife, mother and part-time worker. I’m supporting your election bid hoping that we can make a government that serves the working class and helps those who are struggling to have their basic needs met.