Utah lawmakers discuss the decline of civility in politics

Posted at 5:35 PM, Oct 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-10 00:01:45-04

OGDEN, Utah -- They are arguably two of the most outspoken -- and sometimes polarizing -- figures in local politics.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, discussed a decline in civility in politics. Despite their partisan differences, the two insisted in a discussion at Weber State University's Walker Institute of Politics on Monday that while they disagree -- they're not disagreeable.

"We genuinely like each other," said Sen. Dabakis.

The two said they have seen a decline in civility in Washington, D.C., and are watching it creep into local politics where they believe achieving consensus on important policy is still important.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, pretends to throw a punch at House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, at a discussion at the Walker Institute of Politics at Weber State University in Ogden. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

For example, they suggested there's a price to pay if you're too collaborative. Speaker Hughes said special interest groups have taken to targeting lawmakers mid-legislative session (he kicks money to them to push back). Sen. Dabakis said he hears from some in his district that he's not liberal enough.

"We all face people within our own districts and, you know what?" he declared to the crowd. "I don't care!"

With a Republican super-majority in the Utah State Legislature, the House Speaker told FOX 13 he deals less with disagreeable Democrats than he does with disagreeable Republicans.

"You will find great diversity of thought in those districts even within the Republican House members," he said.

That's not to say there isn't partisan differences. The Speaker and the senator clashed on Medicaid expansion and redistricting. But they didn't venture into personal attacks. Sen. Dabakis said he has always appreciated the Speaker isn't afraid to take a stand.

"You go in, he tells you, 'No way, I'm not going to do that' or, 'Yes, I'll help you' and you take that to the bank," the senator said, before swiping at the governor: "In the governor's office, we just have this dithering guy."

Asked what they would do to improve local politics, Sen. Dabakis said he would continue to urge voters to embrace a two-party system and speak up to provide a counter-viewpoint.

"The best way I'm collaborative is to talk louder and more often and more stridently," he said.

Speaker Hughes said he valued honest dialogue and opposed passive-aggression.

"I'd rather be stabbed in the chest than in the back," he joked. "We need to have honest dialogue with each other."