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The grocery checker, the marriage counselor, and some dick at the Capitol


Back in April 2010, extremely conservative incumbent Senator Bob Bennett was rejected by his own damn party at the Utah Republican Convention because he wasn't extremely conservative enough. Utah Republicans chose Mike Lee instead, the Tea Party roared in victory, mere Very Conservative Republicans nationwide started worrying about getting primaried from the right, and somewhere in their secret submarine base under an extinct volcano in Kansas, the Koch brothers smiled knowingly. Since making it to the Senate, Mike Lee has enjoyed going to extremes, explaining that the federal government has no business banning child labor (gotta leave that up to the states), introducing a bill to protect the sacred right of every government and business employee to discriminate against gays, and, more recently, holding up a Senate bill to pay for non-poisonous water lines in Flint, Michigan. Not because he's in favor of lead poisoning, but because he had a snit about a completely unrelated energy bill. The lead poisoning of poor black children was simply a happy side effect of Lee's principled opposition to that other bill, because sometimes you have to take a stand. Lee is very proud of a 2015 study that found him the Senate's most ideologically extreme member.

Not surprisingly, Utahns think he's the bee's knees and he's expected to sail to an easy reelection in November. Ballotpedia ranks his seat as "safely Republican," as do most other professional prediction-makers. On the other hand, this is an extremely weird election year, and with a recent poll showing Hillary Clinton having a chance of beating Donald Trump in Utah, maybe Lee's seat in the Senate isn't so safe after all. As respected pundit Our Girlfriend put it, "I won't be surprised by anything that happens in November, anywhere." Also, thanks for the birthday Scotch and the "Customary Hot Beverage" mug, from which we are enjoying our coffee as we write.

So in this very weird election year, there are actually two Democrats in Utah who think they have a shot against Lee; their primary is coming up June 28. Both are political newcomers, which usually means "nice try" -- and probably does in 2016. But at least they're interesting political newbies. One is Jonathan Swinton, a marriage and family therapist from Sandy, which is an actual place in Utah. He says the partisan turmoil in Congress is so bad that the institution is ready for a visit to the marriage counselor, which he is. As he explained in an op-ed for the Deseret News,

Gone are the days when collegiality allowed those with opposing ideologies to actually work together. We now live in a political world where respect, compromise, cooperation and civility are not only hard to come by, but are seen as weakness, selling out, or failure to stand one’s ground. As citizens we are disgusted with dysfunctional Washington.

Swinton is all about reasonableness, moderation, middle-of-the-roadness, and bipartisan reacharounds across the aisle, which he thinks Utahns (a word that simply refuses to look right) will be happy to embrace as an alternative to Lee's hardline conservatism. In the same op-ed, Swinton says,

I am running on behalf of Utahns to take these qualities to the United States Senate. I tell my clients every day that if one of you gets everything you want, that means the other gets nothing. This approach leads to conflict in relationships; it also guarantees conflict in a democracy.

Not surprisingly, his very willingness to prove that he's ideologically centrist (for Utah) got him in trouble at the Utah Democratic convention, where a hell of a lot of Democrats refused to support Swinton because he opposes one basic defining principle of modern Democrats: he doesn't support women's right to choose an abortion, and he even supported a federal investigation of Planned Parenthood over those bogus accusations the organization was selling Fetus McNuggets on e-Baybee (what makes him a moderate is that he strongly opposed shutting down the government over the issue). Even though he's taken fairly conventional centrist Democratic positions on just about everything else (he likes the EPA and national parks, and wants the children of Flint to have clean water no matter what other bills are pending), that would be a deal breaker for us right there even if we were choosing a marriage counselor, let alone a federal representative.

Swinton's opposition to abortion divided Dems enough to prevent his getting the nomination outright at April's state convention (Utah, which never does anything normal, generally picks its candidates at the party conventions; there's only a primary if delegates can't agree on one nominee). And the candidate running against Swinton is an even more outside outsider: Misty Snow, a grocery checker from Taylorsville, just outside Salt Lake City. We're kind of all in for her, even though the "realistic" logic suggests Swinton might have the slightly better snowball's chance in hell against Lee, because if Utahns (*shudder*) pick her in the primary, they'll have made some actual history and nominated the first transgender major-party candidate for the Senate in American history. And hell, if the chances of actually ousting Mike Lee are that slim, why not make some history? Not that Snow sees that as the point, saying "I'm not running because I'm transgender. I just happen to be transgender."

Snow says she got into the race not because she really expected to take down Mike Lee (she's a cashier, so she can do math) but because she was frustrated that the only announced Democrat for the nomination looked so much like a Lite-brewed Republican. An admirer of Bernie Sanders, she's unapologetically progressive, working class, and advocates a $15/hour minimum wage, paid maternity leave, and single-payer healthcare. Also, you have to like what she says about Mike Lee (seriously, you have to, or you're disinvited from our birthday party):

"He is probably the second most loathsome guy in the United States Senate behind Ted Cruz," said Snow, citing the 2013 partial government shutdown stemming from a strategy to kill the Affordable Care Act pushed by Cruz and Lee. "He is wrong on every issue I care about. He is a horrible guy."

She didn't know beans about running for office or raising money, but attracted a lot of support from equally enthusiastic young progressives at the convention, including a University of Utah political science student who volunteered to be her campaign manager. The whole operation has an appealing Let's Put On A Show In The Old Bern feel to it, and again, we say go for it, because this is Utah after all, and while Snow's campaign may not be "realistic," it's doing something seriously important and very real, bringing a bunch of earnest Youngs into progressive politics in a very red state. That's how you get change started, and if Snow gets the nomination, it won't be the least bit surprising if veterans of her campaign start showing up in the legislature in a few years.

At a recent debate in Logan, both Snow and Swinton agreed that Lee is just the worst, and vowed they would both eschew big money from super PACs (which, sadly, is probably a pretty easy vow for Utah Dems to make even if they'd love to be corrupted by big donors). Swinton emphasized his let's-reason-together skillz, saying Congress needs a good mediator:

As a marriage counselor, I’m here to tell you cooperation is almost always possible... The Declaration of Independence was the ultimate compromise, and we can still reach agreements like that today. Having Republicans in office is the reality we need to work with, and if both parties continue to not budge on what they want, we will continue getting nothing done.

Snow wasn't buying it, and deployed a nice counter-analogy:

You can’t compromise with someone who isn’t interested in cooperating. I think we really need to make the case that Republicans don’t represent the working class the same way Democrats do. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t a compromise -- it was a divorce. Sometimes a divorce is a good thing, and we need to divorce from Republicans.

As a nitpicky history fan, we'd note that the real compromise document is the Constitution, not the Declaration, so we give 10 historical accuracy points to Snow. As of right now, a very rare small-state poll shows Snow with a slight lead, although nearly half of Democrats still have no preference between the two. Lee has no primary opposition, and Utah has an open primary system, so independents and even Republicans can vote in the primary, too.

We wish both of these wacky outsiders the best of luck, and hope that even if they get squooshed by Lee's outside money and power as an incumbent (not to mention Utah's overwhelmingly conservative electorate), they may have gotten a little fire started under the progressive minority in the state. Here's hoping Utah makes a little history in a couple weeks.

Want to help Misty Snow become a really cool footnote, and maybe something more? Her donation page is here! Want to support the more pragmatic outsider who, with the right electoral math and perhaps a miracle, just might pull off an upset? Jonathon Swinton's donations page is here! And needless to say, Yr Wonkette will need a lot of coffee and scotch to get through doing a Senate race per week between now and November, so you can help the Senate Sundays project out right here!

[Salt Lake Tribune / ThinkProgress / Deseret News / San Jose Mercury / Logan Herald-Journal / Utah Policy poll]

Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or lying in a gutter taking photos.

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I'd mentioned this week that there's definitely probably a tape out there of Donald Trump referring to a black person as a "nigger," because Trump is a racist and that's sort of what they do. Sarah Huckabee Sanders won't even affirmatively deny such a tape exists, and she's from the "two plus two equals five" school of communications management. I also speculated that once the tape was released, Republican supporters of the president would flock to defend his vile words: "Hey, if you rearrange the letters in "nigger," you get "ginger" and who doesn't like redheads and the occasional Dark 'n' Stormy?"

The shameful display has already started and the supposed recording isn't even available for pre-order on iTunes. George State Senator Michael Williams stated in appearance on CNN's "New Day Saturday" that if Trump -- who's the president, by the way -- did say "nigger," it would certainly concern him as an "individual" but "not necessarily as a person that is running our country." So, uh, what the hell is that? This has been a standard argument from Republicans ever since Trump crawled his way out of the sewers of birtherism and onto a major political stage: "We think Trump is a terrible human being -- seriously, we have to shower immediately after meeting with him -- but we still think he's a suitable steward of the most powerful nation on the planet."

Normally, you'd think this would work the other way. You know, your brother-in-law is a nice enough guy. Your sister certainly could've done worse. You don't mind the slightly rambling sports-ball discussions with him at family gatherings. He's good for looking after the kids (as long as your sister is present or reachable by cell), but you'd never invest your hard-earned money into whatever half-assed business venture he's trying to get off the ground nor would you back his run for any serious political office.

I've long had issues with the "brilliant asshole" archetype in TV and movies. It's almost always a white male (because women and minorities must be perfect) whose emotional immaturity and overall jerkass behavior we're told to overlook because they're so goshdarned awesome. Do you want some PC "cuck" or do you want Dr. House to figure out that the MS symptoms you're suffering are really just because you ate a stale doughnut? Sherlock Holmes doesn't have time for your feelings or social niceties -- not while he's solving mysteries and being dreamy.

Trump, however, isn't "brilliant." He's just a guy who says "nigger." They're hardly a scarcity in the market. You don't even have to venture out to a klan rally to find one. You can order online -- same day social media delivery.

Williams argues that Trump didn't use the word "nigger" when he was in the "office of the president." It was just some youthful indiscretion when he was almost 60. I don't even know where he's going with this. Does he think Trump has changed? He routinely insults and belittles black people. He also calls black NFL players who peacefully protest "sons of bitches." Was that his way of weaning off calling us "niggers"? Has he been wearing a "nigger" patch on his arm to control his cravings for the racial epithet?

"He used the word in his personal life," Williams said. (It was actually in a workplace context -- SER) "Now if he were president and were to go on TV and use the n-word, I'd have a major problem with that."

media.giphy.com

It's heartening repulsive to see that Williams draws the line at Trump holding an official "nigger" press conference. I think once we reach that point, Trump will probably also reveal that his buddies on the Supreme Court discovered a typo in the Thirteenth Amendment and black folks' work-life balance will start to really suffer.

"I will always say using the n-word is wrong, and it's bad, and should never be accepted in our society. But just because (Trump) might have done it years ago, not as our president, doesn't mean we need to continue to berate him because he used it," GOP state Sen. Michael Williams, who is white, told CNN's Victor Blackwell on "New Day Saturday."

Blackwell, who is black, had to sit there and listen to this crap from a white elected official who is just 45 years old. You know, the word "nigger" doesn't even appear in the Dred Scott decision, for example, but that's not necessary for reasonable people to understand that it was racist as hell. We all know Trump is racist, but now Republicans can't even repudiate the worst demonstrations of his racial animus. The first black president hasn't even been out of office for two full years and already "nigger" is being redefined. What would once end a campaign in its tracks when Blackwell and I were growing up is now just an "oops, my bad."

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Conservatives want to be oppressed. Or, rather, for everyone to think they are being oppressed and to then give them what they see as the impunity and moral upper hand that comes along with being an oppressed group of people. They want it very, very badly and think it is very unfair that all the people they have oppressed have this privilege and they do not. This morning, Trump took to Twitter to vow to protect them from the worst kind of oppression of all -- imaginary social media censorship!

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