Ep: 6 Politics is My Favorite Sport: Todd Weiler

todd weiler

Politics as a Sport

I had the opportunity to sit down with my friend Senator Todd Weiler. The thing that stood out to me most about our conversation was how he approached politics as a sport:

“I approach politics like a sport and I think it is healthy. I’m a BYU cougar fan and yes we’ve lost to the Utes 8 years in a row but maybe we will win next year. That is what being a fan is all about. Viewing politics as a sport and that helps me. By viewing politics as a sport, there is always the next election. The next year. “

“Whereas, some people who don’t view it is a sport it is all or nothing. If they lose, they want to kill themselves or kill someone else. That is not a healthy approach to sports. I realize that politics are more important than sports. We are passing policy that affects people’s lives. I am not a great fan of BYU football but I am a great fan of politics.”

“I’m not an athlete. I’m horrible. I like sports. I can sit in the stands and cheer. In politics, I can actually be on the field. I can be the coach calling the plays.Or I can be recruiting the athletes.  I’m choosing politics as my favorite sport. I love the fact that I can be on the field and I can be calling the plays.”

Power of Social Media

Todd is known for his use of social media. He has encouraged me to use social media. A lot of times we hear people say that it isn’t worth it. We hear about people taking a fast from social media. They say it isn’t productive and yet there’s so much power in it. 

President Trump Has Made it Easier to Tweet

Todd made the point that President Trump has made it easier to be active in social media:

“Trump has made it easier for politicians to Tweet. Back before Trump I would get responses like “You’re an elected official how dare you say that on Twitter. Even though the things I was saying were not necessarily offensive. Since Trump has started tweeting as President, nobody ever says that to me anymore. I’ve tried to tone down. I’m a little snarky on Twitter. 

Social Media as a Solution

“Our nation has become so divided and the political landscape has become so toxic. I’ve decided several years ago that I don’t want to contribute to that. I’d rather be part of the solution than part of the problem. “

“For elected officials,I think it is an important way to communicate with people. More importantly,  I get to see what is going on. I follow people a lot of liberal people and people that are more conservative than I am. It is a way to keep my pulse on the community, which I think is very important.”

Going Viral and Number of Followers

I had an experience where I shared an article from a parody websiteon my social media. All of a sudden, it went viral. The owner of the website contacted me and asked, “Stan you’ve driven 180,000 hits to my article and I’m wondering how you did it.” I wasn’t sure how I did it. I shared it on my Facebook and then people liked and shared it. It is kind of like the V05 commercial where they will tell two friends and they will tell two friends.

Todd shared his experience with getting followers:

I’ve had tweets that have had 50,000 impressions. Not likes or retweets. I’m not the guy who is constantly looking to see how big my footprint is. What I care about the most is the number of followers on Twitter. I’m just above 7100 right now, which is not a lot. It is a lot harder to get followers on Twitter than on Facebook. I kind of look at other politicians and I usually have more followers than them. Spencer Cox had over 50,000.”

“I used to tease Spencer Cox. I served in the legislature with Spencer for one session. For like two years after he became Lieutenant Governor, I had more Twitter followers than him and I used to tease him that he was the LG and he needed to step up his game. After the Orlando massacre, he gave a speech that just went viral worldwide. Hilary Clinton was Tweeting at him. Ever since he started speaking out with his voice, he blew me away. I’ll never have more Twitter followers than him.”

Being on the Pulse With Social Media

Todd works hard to gauge the pulse of the people and to share that with the legislature:

“I have been in the senate for 8.5 years. We all grow into our roles. One of my roles has been that I try to be the conscience of the caucus. When we were lighting up all these propositions and changing them all, I was like hey guys we’ve gotta be careful with this.”

Prop 2, 3, and 4

“I do think the legislature lost some credibility with prop 2, about the medical marijuana. We had question one, which had the gas tax the year later and the tax reform package that ended up getting the signature qualify for the referendum. I like where the legislature did. It made it really easy for our critics to say the legislature doesn’t care about the voters. I was very careful. In 2018 Prop 2 failed in my district and Prop 3 and Prop 4 passed in my senate district so I didn’t vote to undermine prop 3 and prop 4. My opponent said I don’t listen. I follow my voters on all of these things.”

Tax Reform

“I knew that tax reform would be controversial, the special session bill that we had in December of 2019.  I think that we really touched a nerve. There was a lot of pent up frustration about what we did with the propositions. When the tax reform bill that had the sales tax on food being restored, I think people just went ballistic and it touched a nerve. We saw a movement we haven’t seen in over a decade, with people rushing to Harmon’s and gathering signatures packets to overturn it.”

Get a Feel For What People Are Thinking Through Twitter

Todd shared how he uses Twitter to get a feel for how people are feeling about issues:

“It depends who you are following. It is almost like instant polling. You can see what issues are grabbing people’s attention. On controversial issues you will have people on both sides of it. It really helps me understand what liberals are thinking. I’m not a liberal. Some of my opponents accuse me of being a liberal. It helps me understand what they’re thinking and why they are thinking it. Like a broken clock, they aren’t wrong all the time. They can be right.”

“I think it is very educational for me because I represent all the people in my district, not just the Republicans or not just the people that think like me. Even though I am seeing Tweets from people outside my district, we know that people are divided in their ideological camps. I think it helps me understand why people think the way they do and why things are important. That makes me a better representative or senator.”

Indigent Defense: Work Most Proud Of

After his first senate session, Todd was assigned with Becky Lockhart, my late wife, to an indigent defense task force, which basically helps find paid public defenders to defend poor people who can’t afford legal services. 

Todd shared his feelings about the work he has done with the indigent defense task force:

“I’ve been working on indigent defense since 2012. In 2015, we created the Indigent Defense Commission and we are trying to dramatically improve that representation for people in the state. That is the work that I am the most proud of. It is not the work that grabs the most headlines.  It is the work that 50-100 years from now will have made the most difference in the state of Utah.”

“Nobody runs for office saying we need to spend more money helping poor people hire lawyers. Nobody makes that pitch. But if you really believe in the constitution, which includes the sixth amendment, we shouldn’t be putting people in jail if they are too poor to hire their own attorneys. It is not good for our jail systems to have extra people there that cost us about $35,000 a year to house who really shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

“The movie “Just Mercy” about an attorney in Alabama trying to help people on death row fits right in on that. We aren’t doing death row appeals here in Utah. But we are trying to make sure that if they are poor or minorities have adequate legal counsel and they aren’t being ramrodded through the system.”

Governor’s Race

“I am a Spencer Cox Supporter. We are lucky in the state to have 5 high caliber candidates. I wish 1-2 were women.  We are really lucky because no matter who wins, the state will be in good hands. I normally get involved in the governor race and the senate race. I care a lot about those things. I think about those things. I will be really sad if my candidate loses.”

Need for IRV

“We probably need a run off for our governor. An IRV. We are going to elect a governor and it will be probably be a nominee with under 40% of the vote. We need to do something to fix this push to get Democrats to infiltrate the Republican party. Democratic are going to cross over. This is the first year. I don’t know how we solve it. A lot of the Democrats say they want to stay registered Republicans. That is going to be the new reality for a while.”

Advice for Getting Involved in Politics

Get Involved in a Campaign.

I asked Todd what he recommended for people who want to get involved in politics. I always suggest that people become a delegate. Todd suggested that people get involved in helping with a campaign:

“That is the best way to meet people. It is the best way to show people that you are committed. “

“For example, Linda Cox and her husband Larry moved back to Utah from Washington DC about four years ago. She has been so good at coming into Utah and in a matter of 2-3 years becoming one of Derek Brown’s key people for the convention that she had. She has been running Burgess Owen’s campaign. In 2-3 years, she came in and ingratiate herself into politics. She is a hard worker, a fun person, and a straight shooter. Be like Linda Cox. “

“I didn’t grow up in Utah. You don’t have to grow up here. Just show up, be a nice person, roll up your sleeves and work. You can get involved pretty quickly.”

“Politics is a lot like junior high:

  1. Level of maturity at times
  2. That’s about how many people are really involved in Utah politics is the average number of people in junior high. It is not that hard to get to know most people.”

Don’t Expect Favors

“Too many people make the mistake of getting to know a few people in politics and getting in the inner circles and then they ask for favors. They expect to quit their jobs to focus on politics.  Don’t expect to make any money in politics your first 30-40 years. Don’t ask people for a lot of favors. Show up early and stay after to help clean up. “

Become a Delegate

“Get involved. Get to know your precinct chair. We have hundreds of replacement delegates. For example, In 2018, Phil Weight. He was not only a delegate in Bountiful but he ran for legislature against Ray Ward. He moved to Eagle Mountain. In 2020, he was a state and county delegate in his new neighborhood. even though they hadn’t held a precinct caucus. The precinct chair had some resignations and they couldn’t find anybody who wanted to serve. Phil moved into the neighborhood and asked if they had vacancies.”

“Replacement delegates is a real thing. Having been a party official, if they have moved, died, or left or just say they are not going to participate. you do want to replace them so you can have a full convention of delegates.”

Need to Be Engaged

You need to be a delegate and be engaged. Do your research and get to know the candidates. 

Todd shared his experience working with delegates that weren’t engaged:

“I was surprised how many delegates I would call and they would act like I’m annoying them.  I would be like hey, you signed up for this job. I wanted to see if you had any questions for me. It is so unusual even as a candidate. I would leave delegate messages and give them my personal cell phone number. If more than one out of a hundred called me back, I would pay you $1 million. It is kind of frustrating. They are more concerned with the governor, with a senator. It is frustrating when delegates seem to not care.”

“I would rather have a delegate more like me. I’m curious in every race. I’m going to read the webpages and check out the flyers and I’ll tune into the Facebook Lives. We get a lot of delegates who are motivated and once their candidate and cause is satisfied, they are checked out. It is an inherent problem.”

Get Involved

Todd stressed that it is important that you just get involved in politics. There is a need for more voices:

“Whether people are ideologically aligned with me or not, I wish more people would get involved. I wish more people would contact their legislators. I wish more people would come to conventions.  I wish more people would come to caucuses. I think our system is served well by having a wide variety of participants.  What happens too often is only a certain fringe gets involved in the caucus, that’s when we start seeing these stories that the convention results are so wildly different than the primary results even though they are all Republicans.”

How Became Utah State Senator

“I was going to make a joke about how I tripped and fell into it. I actually graduated from law school at BYU in 1996, I bought a house in Woods Cross in 1997, and I ran for the city council in 1999, the same year Stan got elected to Provo City Council. “

“It all kind of went from there. In 2000, I ran for the legislature. It was a great learning experience but I lost. 7 of us ran for an open seat. I ended up in the top two and I was in a primary. I lost that by less than 250 votes. In that same primary. Dan Eastman had defeated an opponent. In one fell swoop, 6 months after I got elected to the city council, I had a brand new house member and a brand new senator and I knew that on the average they would stay for 10 years. “


I knew I was locked out of the legislature for a while. I got really involved in the party and ended up chairing the Davis Republican Party. Then when the Senate seat opened up, I was better positioned to win, which I did in 2011.”

Political Involvement: Net Positive for Family

People often discuss whether being involved in politics has a positive or negative impact on your family. When I asked Todd, he said, “I think that in all honesty, my family would say that me being involved in politics is a net positive. “

Hasn’t Everyone Been to the Governor’s Mansion?

“Tne benefit of being a legislator is that your family gets to know the state leadership:

“One of my favorite stories to tell is about my daughter Eliza. When I joined the legislature, she was only 8 years old. Elizabeth and I were on a family trip and we had asked Elizabeth’s niece to come and babysit. Then we got home and my niece said that she had been talking to Eliza about the governor’s mansion. My niece who grew up in Salem, she didn’t know there was a governor’s mansion. Eliza was 11 or 12. She was like, you haven’t been to the governor’s mansion? I realized that my kids were growing up in an unusual circumstance. Where not only do they know the governor but they have also been to his house.”

When Todd first got elected, his son didn’t think being in politics was that cool:

“My oldest son is a jock and sports fanatic. He was always telling me nobody cares about politics.  He was amazed when his friends thought it was cool that I was a state senator and then he thought maybe my dad is doing something that is not completely nerdy.”

I had a similar experience with my daughter. Emily was in 7th or 8th grade. They were discussing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The teacher was talking about how horrendous it was. The whole class was agreeing with her and all of a sudden, Emily raised her hand. She said, “Hey.  That saved lives. As bad as it was that saved lives because in order to get Japan to surrender the allies were going to have to go in and invade the country. There would have been so many more lives lost if we had to go town to town and house to house.”

For whatever reason, she makes the case that as bad as it was, the alternative was worse. She stood up to the entire class and by the time the class was over, half of them agreed with her. What I learned was that my kids had gotten these strong views of what the world was like and were willing to stand up for what they believed in. That alone is worth having them as a part of a family that talks politics all the time and is involved in the political scene.

Todd agreed that his children had similar experiences:

“All of my kids have been through Republican National Conventions. I think it has opened a lot of opportunities. Of course, there are a lot of nights I’m not home. A lot of Saturday when I am in meetings and conventions. There are those costs. I think overall it has been a net positive.”

Takeaways

  1. Politics is his favorite sport. His ability to make an impact for good is what gives him the motivation to be in the batter’s box so to speak. 
  2. The way to get involved in politics is to get involved in the campaigns. Do it for the right reasons because you want to serve.
  3. It is very much like a junior high school, not just the level of maturity, but it is about the same number of people. If you’ll just get involved, get involved in a campaign, become a delegate at your party’s caucuses that you can actually make a powerful difference.
  4. He wishes that more people would get involved. It is what our founders of our country had in mind. An engaged citizenry is what makes a difference. 

You can check out Todd’s podcast: ToddcastUtah

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/toddcastutahs-podcast/id1449684268