Jump to questions:
Who are you and why are you running?
In 2006, you published Why Most Utahns are Democrats, But Just Don’t Know It. What made you write it and what was the response?
How do you answer the question “How can you be a Mormon and a Democrat?”
What are some of your top priorities if you are elected?
What specific policy changes would you like to see to improve education?
What other issues are important to you?
How do you feel about Representative Peterson’s performance and why do you want to challenge him?
Now, it is hard to run as a Democrat in Utah, so, what is your plan to succeed?
Is there anything you would like to add?
Utah Political Capitol: Who are you and why are you running?
Steve Olsen: I’ve been involved in politics for ten years and have run for office three other times. Up until 2002 I have considered myself conservative, leaning independent, that usually voted Republican – but I took a look at where Republicans were going and decided to go to my first Democratic event and saw that they didn’t have feet on their head, that they were my neighbors, and thought it might be worth switching after hearing what they had to say.
I am an engineer by trade and have been involved in manufacturing for over 35 years. At my current job at AutoLiv, I am a bit of a problem solver – I have a lot of training in using data, experimentation, and teamwork to solve really difficult problems. I think this gives me a unique skill-set when it comes to the Legislature – a legislature where it is nine-tenths ideology.
Over the years, I have found that I am a good diplomat, I have the people skills to help people see things from a different viewpoint than what they are used to.
UPC: Now, in 2006, you released the pamphlet Why Most Utahns are Democrats, But Just Don’t Know It. What was the reasoning behind why you wrote the pamphlet and what has the response been?
SO: To give you an idea, I have updated that and republished it due to popular demand this year. Between the county and state Democratic conventions, we have distributed about 500 copies.
As a member of the LDS Church, I am a values voter. Around 2006 I found that where the Republican party has gone is in conflict with many of the values of the Mormon church. So, around 2005, I had a bunch of feelings inside me that made me say that there has to be a lot of other voters who, if they put their bias aside, might see things the same way I did. This was the inspiration to write the pamphlet.
I have had a great response to that pamphlet over the years. In 2006 alone, when I ran for congress, we distributed about 3,000 copies. The pamphlet itself is also available online if people can’t get a hold of a physical copy.
UPC: You are the Vice-Chair of the LDS Democrats. How do you answer the question “How can you be a Mormon and a Democrat?”
SO: My first response is: “About the same way James E. Faust, Marvin Jensen, and Steven Snow do it.” There are a lot of good Mormon Democrats. I do it just like those guys and many other elected officials do. In an interview in the late 1990’s, Marvin Jensen was asked the same question in a Salt Lake Tribune interview. He said it wasn’t wise to completely abandon political parties because there are two things within the party that you disagree with.
You know, there are some things in the national Democratic Party that I disagree with, and I would be disappointed if my fellow Utahns didn’t feel the same way about the national Republican Party. I wouldn’t dare lump Utah Republicans in with Todd Akin, who has terribly backwards ideas on the reproductive system.
I think you have to be consistent in the way you ask the question. Like Elder Jensen said, yeah there are things I disagree with, but the overall picture is that our country needs to work for everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful, and that is a place where I am.
UPC: What are some of your top priorities if you are elected?
SO: If you ask any Democrat that, their answer is going to be education. With me it isn’t idle chatter. I have five grandchildren in the state that are using public schools, and my wife and I are raising one which is currently attending a public school.
I feel that the most important thing we can do for economy is to improve education. If we want to improve the economy, we have to improve education – improving our children’s future along the way. I hear the excuses made that “oh, you know, we have large families so we have to put up with large class sizes.” In the 1980’s our families were just as large as they are now, but we have made policy changes that starve our public education system.
UPC: What specific policy changes would you like to see to improve education?
SO: I was talking to Lou Shurtleff, and she told me that there was one lawmaker that used to brag that he had eight children and didn’t pay any income tax -and he thought that was pretty cool.
Interestingly, there isn’t a Republican that can’t seem to open their mouth and preach about personal responsibility, usually while they are ragging on the poor, but, in this case, I agree with them. I don’t have a problem with large families, but personal responsibility says that they should help pay for education.
I would like to see bills similar to what Senator Pat Jones proposed that would cap taxes for families.
Another thing we have to yell from the rooftops is the 2008 flat tax and the effect it had on education. A flat income tax guarantees that, even with robust economic development, it isn’t going to translate to more funds for the schools.
Now, my wife and I are well off, and if you ask me the question “are you willing to pay $100 or $200 more a year in income tax if I knew it was going to my kids classroom?” my response would be “where the hell do I sign up?” I guarantee you that if you were to ask that of the majority of well-off families, they would agree – and public opinion polls back that up.
We need to be bold about saying “we need to stop starving our public schools!”
We also need to talk about teacher pay. Are we going to recruit the best and the brightest if we don’t give teachers a living wage? Let alone when they know that they are going to have to teach 30 kids in a classroom all by themselves? Staffing is a serious problem – and we can’t put our heads in the sand and say “no new taxes” while our children are suffering.
UPC: Aside from education, what issues are important to you?
SO: We did some window dressing on air pollution, we made some progress, but Utah’s economy is suffering because of the inversions in the winter time. We are loosing the convention business and out door business.
This is where I provide some skills. Take UTA for example where people drive to a park and ride and get downtown, they may still have to walk for a while to get to their locations. I think we need to get some smart people together to set some goals and benchmarks to help make the system more usable.
I also think we need to insist that our industrial polluters use the latest technology to improve our air. We can’t just shut down plants, they are a part of our economy, but if plants are up to the highest standards, it would do a lot to clean our air.
UPC: Your opponent has been in office for a few years, how do you feel about his performance and why do you want to challenge him?
SO: I have told voters to look at my resume and look at Representative Peterson’s. He is a young real estate guy and I have years of life skills. You know, electing someone is like hiring them, so I ask that voters think of it that way. Once you look at the qualifications, you should “hire” that person.
If, after doing the research, you feel that Representative Peterson is the most qualified, God bless you, go vote for him. But, go do that, look at the resumes of the two candidates, and vote for the person you feel is most qualified.
UPC: So, what do you feel makes you most qualified at “the interview?”
SO: As I said earlier, I am a problem solver. I use facts and data and teamwork to find real solutions to problems, rather than just based on my ideology. Look at my leadership – I have held high positions in the church, I was chair of the Weber County Democrats, I have been active as a leader in scouting, and have had leadership positions at work. In fact, there is about a 50 percent chance that, if you drive a car in Utah, I was involved in the design of the airbag in that car.
So, hire the guy you feel is most qualified.
UPC: Now, it is hard to run as a Democrat in Utah, so, what is your plan to succeed?
SO: To be honest, the numbers are not that bad. District 9 was solidly Democratic until the area was gerrymandered to no end. In 2012, it was a 60/40 race with the Romney Tsunami involved. Without that, I think that narrows it to a 55/45 race.
So to get there, we need to make sure I get my name out. We have volunteers already going out and starting to work to get my name out. We also need to bug the heck out of Democrats in the area and people we know will vote for us to get out and vote.
I think, between those two things, I think we really have a chance.
UPC: Is there anything you would like to add?
SO: You know, one thing Utahns have kind of lost was the balance in elections, particularity in Weber County. But something has happened where we need to get back to where we were.
My favorite example was Dee Smith versus John Swallow this past election. Now, I don’t think anyone would say that Swallow was the better candidate, but because Smith was the Democrat, despite being one of the most qualified candidates – being the Weber County Attorney – Smith lost even in Weber county. He had name recognition, and people worked hard for him.
Why did people in Weber County vote for Swallow? Because they walked into the ballot booth, didn’t think, and punched the elephant. A lot of those people probably didn’t even know that Dee was on the ballot.
We have to stop that and we need to get back to where we were.
**Utah Political Capitol does not endorse any candidate or party. The views expressed by candidates are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of UPC.**