Mike Winder: Local Matters
Behind the Scenes: Getting to Know Our Elected Officials:
In the podcast, we try to get a little behind the scenes of what happens in politics, one of the reasons for doing this podcast is that many times our listeners, they think of their elected officials as, you know, they’re, they’re a step removed from them, and I really believe that our elected officials are just like the people they represent.
Mike said, “That’s what Teddy Roosevelt once said, is in America we are the government, you and I, I mean that’s true, especially at the local level, right?”
Getting to Know Mike Winder:
I asked Mike to share with me his experience growing up.
Dairy Farm Family
Mike said, “My kids are the sixth generation Winders to grow up on Winder Lane in West Valley by the old dairy property. We have deep roots of cows and milk and all that fun there.”
“I’ve been kind of a lifelong political junkie. Everything from being student body president of Taylorsville High School where I started the Taylorsville City Incorporation effort and was the state teenage Republican chair that year. One time we skipped high school to go see First Lady Barbara Bush at her reading event with Utah First Lady Colleen Bangerter at the old Crossroads Mall.”
Later, when I worked for West Valley City and our economic development office. Then when I went back to working at the dairy, I was elected to the West Valley City Council and then later as West Valley City Mayor.”
“After my time there, I was at Zions Bank for a bit as a community development VP. But I missed city government, local government. I was fortunate at that time to be elected to the Utah House of Representatives, and I’m now in my third term there in the state house. I’m now back to city government where I’m now the assistant city manager and economic development director for Utah’s newest city Millcreek. I love the things that are happening in Utah at the state level and the local level, and just shake my head at the craziness at the federal level.”
You Can Have More Impact in Local Legislature
“I’ve had people before say oh, would you ever want to run for Congress or anything like that and I’m thinking, heck no, here at the local level you can sleep in your own bed and and actually get stuff done. You ever noticed that members of Congress and their reelection stuff advertised bills they’ve sponsored, not that have passed. Whereas in the Utah legislature, it’s about, no, what have we actually done. At the local level we get stuff done.”
I told Mike that my late wife Becky felt very similarly. People would always ask her, are you gonna run for Congress? No, I’m not running for Congress. Why not? Because we actually get stuff done! Senator Lee would have to validate this, because right now I’m giving it second hand and the person who gave it to me first hand is no longer around. But she said that, she said to Mike, she said, so Mike, what do you do every day? And so he goes through a list of the meetings he goes to and the committees he sits on that stuff and she said no, what do you do every day, what do you get done? Well, there’s this and that and that and this. No, Mike, what actually do you do that makes a difference? You know, in terms of policy, and he didn’t have a great response for her at that time.
And I’m not sure there is a great response when it comes to the US government doing much and, and I guess, to some extent that’s fine because the founders didn’t have in mind for the federal government to do a lot, but there are just times where you’d like to see them get it just right, and that, and that just doesn’t happen very often.
Experience as a State Legislator
I asked him how being a legislator is different than the rest of the things that he’s done.
“There’s something magical about being the mayor of your hometown. It really is. But you can’t beat the energy of the Utah House of Reps during the session. You can’t beat that. And part of the magic is Utah has one of the shortest sessions in the nation, 45 days, seven weeks, and we come together as teachers and realtors and retirees and may work at the local college or a city or whatnot.”
“We balanced the budget, unlike our federal counterparts. We pass some laws to make Utah a better place. And then we go home and have to live with the laws we passed, and it is a heady crazy time those seven weeks, but strangely it works. I think that idea of a citizen legislature is something that Madison and Jefferson envisioned more than what you you currently see it with the full-time politicians.”
“I look at states like California and Ohio that have full time legislators, they’re sitting around all day with their bloated staff coming up with new regulations and new taxes and I don’t think they’re solving more problems in Utah. And so, I think the Utah citizen legislature model works really, really well.”
Both Parties Coming Together to Better Utah
“One of the cool things about being in the legislature is, you develop friends on both sides of the aisle from every corner of the state. And you have to be somewhat of a decent person to get the majority of your neighbors to check your name on a ballot. And so, you’re working with really, really good people who care, you’re working with people who have served in local government or have made a name for themselves in business or education and they’re just really, really good people.”
“And so, I would, I would put the character of my Republican and Democratic colleagues in the legislature up against anybody, because they’re just fantastic people, and they care about Utah and solving problems, and that’s a fun place to be when you’re trying to get some things done.”
“I look at the legislature and could we use more women in there to balance things out? Absolutely, my female colleagues are some of the best and we need to better reflect Utah, we need more female elected officials, and can we have more ethnic diversity in there to better reflect our constituencies? Absolutely.”
“ But, that, that takes away from the fact that you have incredible people there, you have young moms, you have retired seasoned statesmen like Lowry Snow, you have, you just have a really good good group of people who want to make Utah a better place.”
“They all have their biases from their day jobs, but that also lends some expertise, we get talking healthcare issues. Well there’s a number of people who work in health care including doctors on both sides of the aisle that are there. We get talking affordable housing issues, and we have people there who work for home builders and realtors, but also people who are in city government and communities that are looking at how we strike a good balance there. You talk about education issues, and you have people that are school teachers or retired school teachers or married to school teachers, or like in my case, my wife Karen is president of the Granite School Board, and so we have some perspectives there, on any given topic up there, that really helps have informed discussions.”
I told Mike that I’ve now been observing the legislative process for over 25 years and it is exactly as he said, it’s amazing what they get done in 45 days. And by and large, we get great policies in Utah, and when they get it wrong on policy, you can bet you’ll be back a year later, making changes to fix it, right? So, it’s an amazing setting.
What is it Like Being a Legislator?
Low Pay and Serving
What would you like people to know about the life of a legislator? I used to have people call our home all the time saying, is Congresswoman Lockhart there? And by the way, I’m mad that she’s making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, and I just said man, you’ve got the wrong place. This is the Utah legislature, this is, this is not a place where anybody’s making a lot of money, and it’s a full time job with part time pay.
Mike said, “Yeah well I would say, I think, what do we paid, about 15 grand a year? I made more financially as a city councilman in West Valley than I do as a state legislator so the people who are there aren’t doing it for the money, you truly have to have a public spirit and desire to care to make the world a better place.”
45 Days a Year of Service
“You have to have an employer who works with you to be away from the office 45 days a year. And so you know a larger organization like Zions Bank or IHC, they can absorb and afford to have some legislators who can break away from work for a bit, but the rest of us, but we’re all up there on our laptops still doing some work emails in a long committee meeting, or on a long floor time, because you really can’t just shut it off for seven weeks. I do feel bad for those like, you know, if you’re a dentist, you really can’t do anything for seven weeks. Whereas, in a job like mine, I actually stay pretty on top of it during the session, especially this year with Zoom calls, it’s been even easier this year.”
“If you have a pocket of time to step in your office at the Capitol and do a work call via Zoom. I often say you have more laptop time during the session than you do in the normal course of things because you are sitting a lot. You know, you’re sitting on the floor of the house, you’re sitting in the committee rooms. And so trying to strike that balance between family, day job, and civic service is a tricky thing, and props to the families of legislators because they really get the short end of the stick, during the session. But the good news is there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and seven weeks flies by pretty quick.”
“By the way, Stan, I love when Utah’s legislature is, you come out of Christmas, you’re heading into the doldrums of January, and the world goes nuts in the capitol for seven weeks and when you emerge from that, there’s blossoms on the trees, it’s March. And so I kind of feel like my life has five seasons spring, summer, fall, winter and legislature. And so, legislature is a great way to get spend your February, candidly, in a productive way. And I think it’s that way because the farmers of yesteryear, they couldn’t be away from their fields during spring, summer, or fall and so that made the most sense and that’s been a legacy that we’ve, we still enjoy today, I think when the session is.”
“But what people often don’t realize is how much prep work goes into that session. So just this past week on Cinco De Mayo, the gun went off and we could open bill files for our awesome legislative staff to begin preparing bills for the 2022 session. And so what people don’t realize is, we’re already, you know I opened seven bill files, some of those are ideas I have some of them are things constituents brought to me.”
“Some of those are bills that didn’t quite make it across the finish line last session that we’re gonna try to run up the flagpole this time, and we’ll have our staff working all summer long, all fall long on getting bills tuned to just right, we’ll be working with stakeholders, hey what do you think of this draft, does this do what we need to do.”
“We’ll have our interim committee meetings one day a month, where we’ll sit down with our peers and flesh out some ideas and come up with new ones. So there is some good prep work that goes into that 45 day session well, well in advance that people don’t see. They just see the tip of the iceberg in January, February, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes all year long.”
Ranked Choice Voting Favorite Bills He Has Filed
I asked Mike to tell me what is his favorite bill of the seven that he filed.
Mike replied, “I ran a bill last session that rank choice voting that was really exciting too, Stan.
I got excited when he started talking about ranked choice voting because that is one of my favorite subjects.
Mike said, “I love rank choice voting because it is so empowering for the voter in a game changing way just like vote by mail was.”
Similar to Vote by Mail in How Helpful It is
“So let’s take vote by mail, for example, before vote by mail came out, you would go to the, to the polling place and the good news about that is it’s fun and festive and you’d see your neighbor the poll worker or whatever. The downside is you’d stand in a line, and you’d get in that voting booth, and you’d feel a little bit of pressure to quickly mark everything because you know there’s a long line outside the library door, school door, to come vote behind you and you’d vote and be on your way and it gets sticker and there was pros and cons with that.”
“Well vote by mail, now, you get it in advance, you can go through, if there’s a topic, or if there’s a question on that ballot or a candidate and you want to do a little research, you hop online and research it a bit, talk to family members, whatever you need to do, and they get the most important vote you can, and then you mail it from the comfort of your home and you’re done. And you ask Utah to vote by mail, they would never want to go back to the old way of doing things.”
Great Feedback About Ranked Choice Voting
Ranked Choice Voting is Getting more Popular
“Rank choice voting is the same way when you talk to people who vote by rank choice voting. “We had a couple cities do some with Vineyard and Payson do a pilot program a couple years ago and we’ve had both the Utah and Democratic Republican parties use rank choice voting in their convention.”
“It’s intuitive, people love it, because they say, okay I want, I want Johnny as my first choice, I want Suzy as my second choice, I want Stan as my third and last choice. And if Johnny doesn’t get a majority in that first round, then, or if nobody gets majority in that first round and the people who voted for the weakest link drop off and their next choice rolls up.”
“And so all of a sudden it’s a more empowering vote for the people. That’s why I’m passionate about rank choice voting is because I think it empowers the voter to truly express the will of the voter in a way that, that you don’t see.”
“Look at the New Hampshire primary, when Donald Trump broke through, the majority the voters in New Hampshire actually wanted someone besides Donald Trump in that race, and that, you had a noisy plurality that was able to snowball that and, and affect the trajectory of history for good and for bad, right? So, rank choice voting you’re able to really get a more pure expression of the voters.”
Bills for Ranked Choice Voting in Utah
“ So I ran a bill last time, to have rank choice voting in the primary. And we decided the powers that be, as we talked with House and Senate leadership and even the governor’s office. Hey, why don’t we, why don’t we wait and let’s have a municipal year this year. And let’s talk about that in a minute too, Stan, because that’s pretty exciting news. But we have a municipal year coming up with rank choice voting we’re going to have more tests than we’ve ever had before. And assuming it goes well as the other tests have, I’m already preparing a bill in the wings, it’s going to have rank choice voting for all primary and general elections in Utah.”
“Now, that idea is going to evolve and flow as we’ve talked to stakeholders throughout the year. And as we see how the municipal tests go this fall, but we’re gonna be ready in primetime come January. If the people of Utah love rank choice voting this fall like we think they will, we’ll have a bill all ready to go in January, that will look even further expand that give people more options for ranked choice voting. How that final bill looks we’re still going to work on.
“ I’ve been, I’ve been privy to the Millcreek discussions because of my day job right?And, and then Mayor and Council, and I’ve kind of just sat back and watch that because they all have their strong opinions on that, but unanimously they wanted to give it a try. They said, wait a minute, this does a few things for us.”
“One, it, it makes a more civil election. And, and I know that’s true. When my sister, quick tangent, when my sister Amy Winder Newton was running for governor last year, we had rank choice voting in the, in the convention. And it’s amazing how civil people were in that race because you didn’t want to tick off another campaign because you would hope that, hey they may put you know, Spencer Cox, as their first choice but you wanted Amy Winder Newton to be at least, your second choice.”
“And so we had a very robust experiment with rank choice voting with it there in the convention. Well that picks the top two people who went on to the primary and then of course, others were on the primary ballot because of signatures. But in that primary Republican primary, it was not ranked choice voting, it was whoever gets the most votes wins. And you saw a lot more negative nasty campaign than you saw in the convention phase because you didn’t have that rank choice voting piece, and then the ultimate winner which happened to be our current governor Spencer Cox, won with 36.5% of the vote?”
“I’m a big fan of our current governor, but there was, there wasn’t that mandate coming out of that primary like normal because only 36% had voted for it, whereas a rank choice voting scenario the winner would have had a clear majority and that would have been a better mandate.”
“ So the reason the Millcreek City Council loved it was, number one, they said this is gonna lead to more positive elections we know that’s true looking at rank choice voting last year and even around the country. Number two, in the case of these municipalities, it actually saves them money, because instead of having a primary election. In the summer, and then the general November, you just skip right to the general but it’s rank choice voting so you can process the multiple candidates that would be on the ballot. Well that means not only does the city save money, but you don’t get the vote, the voter fatigue of campaign signs littering your city, all summer long and all fall long. It really puts the campaign in the fall where it belongs.”
“And so for these cities I think it would be a more positive experience. You have a burst of energy, the robust debate and discussion. And then you go to vote and especially in these cities you go to vote and, hey, I really like this person running because they’re my neighbor, but I also like this person running because I have some good ideas, and I wish I could vote for more than one, well with rank choice voting you kind of can because you just rank your order preference.
Cities Participating in Ranked Choice Voting Elections
“ May 10 is the deadline that we as the legislature set for this experiment with rank choice voting for cities to say, hey are you in or are you out this year, we want to be fair to our county clerks and give them time to gear up and ramp up for it, so May 10th, which by the way is Amy Winder Newton’s birthday too, Happy Birthday Amy, is the big day when the rank choice voting cities only to say who’s in and who’s out. And so the fact that we have 23 cities up from the two that we had two years ago is really showing how this idea is snowballing in a very positive popular way.”
“This is the final list of who, cities and towns across Utah from north to south, participating in the rank choice voting experiment here in the municipal election of 2023, okay, Stan, let’s hear it.”
I shared that we have the following cities participating:
- Cache County
- River Heights
- Grand County
- Wasatch County
- Salt Lake County
- Cottonwood Heights
- Mill Creek
- Salt Lake City
- South Salt Lake
- Utah County
- Elk Ridge
- Woodland Hills
“I love it, I mean you’ve had small towns like Newton, you have our capital city Salt Lake City and a whole bunch in between. And you’re going from Moab in the south and up in Cache Valley, this is going to be fantastic to see how the people of Utah fall in love with rank choice voting because they will.”
“ That’s what we’ve seen, the state of Maine or by the way, Republican Susan Collins would not have won her race this year without rain choice voting because you get those libertarians in third party candidates that can be spoilers sometimes. So, this will be fantastic.”
Don’t Waste Your Vote
“The other thing I like about rank choice voting, Stan, is people don’t feel like they waste a vote. You know sometimes, you think I want to vote for this person, but they’re really not going to win so I hate wasting my vote there. Well, it doesn’t, with rank choice voting, you’re never wasting a vote because you can put someone else as your second or third choice so what do you think, Stan what what’s going to happen this fall?”
Ranked Choice Voting Increasing in Popularity and Support
I told Mike, That’s great. So, I will tell you this. Six months ago, if you had told me there’d be 23 Utah cities using rank choice voting, I would have laughed. Our goal after having to use it in 2019, we were hoping that maybe 10 cities would opt in. And something happened, and a part of it was county clerks being more willing to administer it. So they were really resistant two years ago and there’s an, and when city started approaching then this year, many of these county clerks said, I really would prefer not to but if you really want to do it cities, I’m your county clerk, and I’ll do it. And that was one of the things that kind of broke the dam a little bit.
The other thing was that cities, I think that, in light of the 2020 election where there were just questions about the integrity of our elections, Mike, I think I had one city council member in Sandy city say, this is an experiment and most of the time, when we look at government and we see something that, that is a concern to us, we complain and complain but can do nothing about it. Here we are with questions about the integrity of the 2020 election, and here’s an election methodology that might actually produce a better election for, for the citizens of our country and for the residents of our cities. She said it’s worth doing just for that, because not only will we make, do we have the chance of making things better for Sandy, and making things better for the state of Utah, but we have a chance of making things better for the entire country. And that really spoke to me, it spoke to my heart.
Utah is an Example
Mike shared, “Well, I love it, I feel like Utah is, as Gary Herbert used to say that the brightest star on the flag right? And Utah is an example the nation of civility, most of the time, not all the time but most the time, low unemployment, pro market, pro family, legislation and we get it right, we don’t always get it right, but we usually do in Utah and we have a way to lead out in the country. A lot of the country is playing catch up trying to figure out how vote by mail should work, we’ve done that in Utah, and we’re going to do the same now with rank choice voting where people will look to Utah and say, wow, that’s not even a Republican or a Democrat thing, that’s just a good government thing.”
“And when I look at, former representative Democrat representative Rebecca Chavez how and former Republican Representative Mark Roberts, they both kind of pioneered and helped us get to this point, we stand on the shoulders of bipartisan giants with rank choice voting, and you’re gonna look back 5-10 years from now and that’s going to be the norm, probably around the country and people will say, wow I can’t believe we were so myopic before whereas just pick your top choice and go home. Because we have empowered voters in an amazing way that our founders would have been tickled with, So, Stan, it’s been great to visit with you on this today, these are some fun topics.”
How to Support Ranked Choice Voting
I guess what our listeners need to do is number one, if you live in any of those cities, you’re going to be using rank choice voting. That means you better dig in and figure out who you’re number one and number two and number three and number four and so on choices are. That means you got to go to websites and you need to participate in, in candidate meet and greets and in debates and open houses and those types of things you need to get to know those candidates, so that you can rank them, I think that would be my message for voters in any of these 23 cities this year.”
Ranked Choice Voting and Our Founding Fathers
I shared with Mike that our founders really wanted educated voters, they understood the importance that elections, when we have a representative form of government, those elections mean everything to us because that’s the time that we get to really weigh in on what our government is all about. And then, and then once we elect them they go and they and they are, they’re representing us. And so this election is so important, but they didn’t just want people voting, they wanted informed citizens voting, they wanted an engaged electorate, they wanted an educated voter.”
Thomas Jefferson said an informed citizen is the best defense against tyranny. And that’s really what rank choice voting plays into is becoming an informed citizen. And so I just want to encourage our listeners, there is a no submit in some of these 23 cities, this year is your chance to become really informed about who’s running for these offices, and then again you get to weigh in and you get to express your will fully, you get to, you get to basically say, here’s who I want the very most, and here’s why, if not for that person, here’s who I want second most and then third most and so on. And it’s just a wonderful way to engage voters more fully.
Mike is one of the most connected people politically in the state. I asked him to share his final thoughts.
Mike said, “Well I just say you know, a lot of this conversation talked about elections and elections have consequences and elections matter. And so we’ve got to get them right.”
“One of the bills I passed this past session that the governor signed was a better, a tighter process in Utah to remove deceased voters from the voter rolls, because people were getting ballots in the mail from their dad that passed away two and a half years ago, you know. So we have a process to do that in Utah.”
“We want to strike that balance and this is a hot issue nationally of, we want to make it easy and for an informed voter to vote, but we also want to have processes to make to protect the integrity of the ballot. And I love that in Utah we are striking that balance very, very well. And this even though it’s a municipal year it’s a big election year.”
“And I’ll tell you from having from working in city government and having been a council member and a mayor, you hear about Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell and, and the squad and everyone on the news, but guess what’s gonna affect your life more than anything? It’s going to be how your streets are repaired, it’s going to be how growth happens in your neighborhood, which is a huge thing right now, it’s going to be how the garbage is picked up and the recycling and, and those local officials matter. And will that park be, will you get those new pickleball courts in your park down the street this year and, you know these local things are gonna affect your day to day life, far more than the talking, the screaming heads on Fox News and MSNBC, because they, you know local matters. It really does. And so, engage in those candidates this year and have some fun with rank choice voting.”
Mike, it’s been great to have you as always. You’ve been involved for so long, one of the interesting things about you, you’ve been involved so long, if I didn’t know Mike Winder, I think that you would have white hair and would be a grandpa, and yet you’re still young and you have this, you have a lot of family still at home, kids at home, and kids who are starting to leave the nest, and you’re young.
Mike said, “I’m 45 but I’m reminded of a conversation years ago I had when I was in the City Council, I was with city councilman Cory Rushton and the Mayor of West Valley at the time was Dennis Nordfeldt, who was probably a retiree at the time. And he looked at Cory and I as young guys in our late 20s and early 30s and said, I don’t know why you guys are here. When I was your age, I was, you know, changing diapers and running kids to Little League and Scoutmaster and this and that and I don’t know why you’re doing this at your age.”
“And Cory looked at older Mayor Nordfeldt and said, ‘No offense, Mayor, I don’t know why you’re doing this at your age, but when I’m 70 I want to be on a cruise ship, I want to be taking my grandkids to Disneyland, I want to be on the golf course, I don’t want to be wrangling a city council.’
We all had a good laugh and there are different seasons of life, or service and everyone’s a little different and maybe I’m getting mine over with while I’m young, so I can go on a mission and go do some other projects later in life. I don’t know, but, but it is fun to serve and it’s an honor to serve and be involved and there’s a lot of ways beyond even elected service that people can be involved.”
1. At the local level we tend to get things right more often in politics.
2. You can’t beat the energy of the House of Representatives during a legislative session. I think that’s totally true.
3. We have a citizen legislature, which means they have their own career and family outside the legislature. They do the legislative work part-time. They work at balancing the budget and passing laws and these legislators have to go home and live with the laws that they passed. It is a heady, crazy time for seven weeks and it works. The citizen legislature model works really, really well.
5. In his world, as a legislator, there are 5 seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter and the legislature.
6. We got in a discussion about ranked-choice voice and how we’ve gone from two cities two years ago to twenty-three cities this year. Ranked-choice voting is snowballing in a positive, popular way. He talks about some reasons for that. In his view, you get more civility in the elections, which is good for both the citizens and candidates. It saves money. It prevents campaign fatigue. We see more and more that these elections that elections get longer and longer and longer. With ranked-choice voting, it gets shorter and shorter and shorter. There are no wasted votes. You as a voter get to more fully express your will.
7. When asked about parting comments after talking about elections for a half-hour, he said “Elections have consequences. Elections matter. We always hear about the national politicians but truly the local politics and local elections affect your lives more than anything else.”