What's It Like To Be A Delegate?
Salt Lake City, UT – More than 6,000 Republican and Democratic Party delegates will flood the Salt Place Convention Center this weekend to select candidates for a wide array of political offices. Utah's nominating process is unique some call it quirky. It starts with hundreds of neighborhood meetings, where ordinary citizens elect delegates to represent them at the convention.
For many of the state's thosands of delegates, it's a serious responsibility. Julie Fleming is standing at the family calendar, pinned up on the closet door. She goes through the agenda.
"There's Taste of Kearns'," she says. "I have a daughter performing solo flute, then my son's in band Thursday, I've been invited to a delegate breakfast."
She and her husband have 4 kids, ages 3, 6, 10 and 13. Fleming teaches Spanish in a community class one night a week. She's also the PTA president. She points to a huge stack of papers.
"You can see over there," says Fleming. "That's all PTA stuff that I have to sort and count for teachers"
But it's her work as a Republican state delegate that's taking up most of her time these days. She points to the stacks of campaign literature.
"It's really bad when you have a race like this," she says.
A "race like this" is the U.S. Senate seat that Bob Bennett currently occupies. He's got six challengers. Fleming is impressed by the thorough answers Bennett has given in debates so far. But she's still undecided. Though she's under no obligation to vote how her precinct wants her to, Fleming is taking their views into consideration.
"I have people in my precinct that want him out," she says. "That's kind of where I'm torn."
One Saturday night, April 24th, Fleming drives from her home in Kearns to listen to a debate in Salt Lake City. Senator Bennett is talking about the first bank bailout bill, the Troubled Assets Relief Bill, also known as TARP. Fleming, her long hair tied back in a pony-tail, is wearing jeans and a pink sweater. She listens carefully and takes notes in really neat handwriting, the kind only a former teacher could have. After the debate, she says she liked Senator Bennett's explanation on why he voted for the first $350 billion dollar TARP bill to prevent widespread bank collapse.
"If that did prevent us from another 1929, then that's a positive," says Fleming. "But I still don't like the concept of a bailout."
After the debate, Fleming puts Bob Bennett in second position, after candidate Tim Bridgewater.
"He's a businessman and he started from humble beginnings," she says. "And he's had to build that up, he has to know how to build a budget, he has to know how to pay his employees, he has to know how to do that."
She has more questions for candidate Mike Lee, wondering if Congress really needs another lawyer.
Julie Fleming was raised in California in a conservative, religious family. She remembers when the voter pamphlet arrived at the house, the family would sit down and talk about each issue. When she was 13, Fleming wrote Roselyn Carter about her views on the Equal Rights Amendment.
"And I was very insulted," laughs Fleming. "When I got a very patronizing letter back from her intimating that at 13, I couldn't have any clue about what was going on and I was really insulted."
For the Kearns mother, being politically active is more than natural.
"I think it's our right and our responsibility as citizens of this country," she says.
Fleming is a conservative Republican, but doesn't consider herself part of the Tea Party movement, though she admires their activism. Her number one priority as she assesses candidates, is fiscal responsibility and next to that, getting back to the founding principles of the American constitution.
"I feel like our country is moving away from it," she says. " And it's the document that it was founded on so I got a pocket constitution and I'm reading it cause I want to try to figure out who is the most in line with it."
Saturday morning, May 2, Fleming arrives at the West Valley City Fitness Center. Candidates are standing in small groups in a side-room, talking to delegates. Fleming squeezes in to ask Mike Lee a question about national health care reform, which she opposes.
"The idea is to repeal it," she asks. "Can that legally be done, how can that be done, and how do you plan to do that?"
U.S. Senate candidate Mike Lee responds.
"The question is about Obamacare," he says."Yes it can be legally done."
Fleming listens for about 15 minutes, and seems impressed. She moves away from Lee and says his answer was something she hadn't considered before so that was interesting. She likes Lee's command of the constitution, but is struck by Bridgewater's business acumen. She's watched a video of Bennett's floor speech on his bill to make social security solvent. It really impressed her.
"My mind keeps switching," she says.
"I will really like what they say but sometimes I will look at their website and have other things that I'm not so comfortable with."
It's Monday afternoon and Fleming is picking up her daughter from school in the family mini-van.
"Hi Ash!," says Fleming to her 13-year-old daughter.
"Hi Mom," says Ashley.
"How was your day?," Fleming continues.
"It went pretty well," says Ashley.
"You sound tired," says Fleming. "Is that because it didn't go very well or your just tired?"
"Well, most of it went pretty well, except for band," says Ashley.
Ashley talks about how the flute and trumpet sections were the only ones to listen to the substitute teacher, but also she also shows her mom her high score on her science test. Ashley's a bright, bubbly kid, who doesn't seem to mind when her mom tells her she'll have to babysit while she's at Saturday's day-long Republican convention.
"Dad has a breakfast that he has to do in the morning," says Fleming. "So he's going to be flipping pancakes."
"I could make waffles," says Ashley."Or I can make pancakes as well, I know his recipe." The family seems to take Fleming's political activism in stride.
"I think that it's really cool that she's so involved in the community although sometimes I wish she was around a little bit more," says Ashley. But she follows up by telling me her mom makes the BEST birthday cakes in the world.
"They have the best home-made frosting and they're just the greatest," she says.
But that is the reason Fleming won't jump into the political ring herself. It would take too much of a toll on her family. Being a delegate is enough work. And with just two days left before convention, she's still undecided. Julie Fleming has a lot more notes to take, speeches to watch, and questions to be answered. Copyright 2010, kuer