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Political leaders: Democrats and Republicans not as divided as many people believe

West Jordan neighbors Jerry Enright and Robert Vest place opposing political signs between their homes. (Alex Cabrero KSLTV)

SALT LAKE CITY – This extremely bitter election process has left many Americans feeling the country is divided beyond repair.  However, some political leaders in Utah say the Democrats and Republicans actually are a lot closer than many people would expect. 

On the national level, we heard nothing but nasty partisan rhetoric.  President Donald Trump frequently called President-elect Joe Biden “Sleepy Joe,” while Biden would call the president “unhinged.”  At one point, Biden also said, “If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.”

So, when Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox and his opponent Chris Peterson did an ad together, it was a massive surprise.

Utah GOP Chair Derek Brown says, “They did an advertisement together, talking about how even though they’re running against each other, they’re also friends.”

National news anchors looked at the ad like they had seen a unicorn. GMA Anchor Amy Robach said she got chills watching it, and her co-host T.J. Holmes said, “You know what I was doing?  I was imagining what I heard out of their mouths coming from the two presidential candidates.”

Brown says many people may be surprised at how well Democrats and Republicans in Utah work together.  He says when he was in Utah House of Representatives, most of the votes were actually unanimous.

“That’s because the Democrats and the Republicans work together.  They have committees that workshop these issues.  They workshop the bills and they get the bills to a place everyone can agree on,” Brown says.

There are some specific topics that Brown says are becoming more bipartisan.  For instance, criminal justice reform.  He says Utah Senator Mike Lee got some strange looks when he started working on it.

He says, “There were a lot of individuals who viewed that and wondered why it was he was taking on what was essentially a ‘Democrat’ issue.”

Utah Democratic Party Chair Jeff Merchant says people within the two parties generally want the same outcomes, they just disagree on how to get there.  He says the parties work very well on infrastructure bills, and increasing well together on environmental issues.

“Sure, we may be off on some of the numbers, but Democrats and Republicans both value and see something that we can work on and improve,” says Merchant.

So, what’s going wrong?  Merchant estimates the parties agree on 98% of all things, but it’s the two percent, the wedge issues, that seem to get all of the attention.  He also believes vilifying the other guys is becoming too common on the national stage.

“Republicans and Democrats have a lot of thinking to do about what the message of this race was and what the message of this campaign process was.  Nobody got a mandate to govern, here.”

Plus, he says the old adage that all politics is local got flipped on its head this year.  He believes President Trump pointed out a serious problem when he said this in Kenosha.

“It’s not about… yeah, it is about me, when you think about it,” the president said.

Merchant says, “That, I think, is a problem when we’re looking at an election.  This needs to be about the direction we want the country [to go].  It cannot and should not be a referendum about an individual.”