One of the top questions I have been asked as I have met with people is why I am running for Salt Lake County Council.  What a great question—there are a lot of reasons why.

Today I would like to talk about one of those reasons:  service.

I have always been interested in social issues and in better government.  When I was in college, I applied for and won the Truman Scholarship.  I remember the day that one of my old professors and advisors at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Ted Wilson, told me I had been selected as a Truman Scholar.  He had gathered my family—my wife, mom and dad—without telling me, and then sprung the news on me when they walked into the room.  The Truman Scholarship is the “living memorial” to President Harry S Truman. Truman didn’t want a bricks and mortar monument, he wanted something that would give back to the nation’s young people in perpetuity.  Since he always wanted to go to college, but wasn’t able to, it is fitting that his memorial provides money and a host of opportunities for students seeking to do graduate work. The only catch?  You have to be interested in serving the public.

Back when I applied for the Truman, I was focused on international issues—helping migrant communities, developing solutions to refugee issues, etc. I had worked with a Somali family who had been resettled in Salt Lake for a year or so with the International Rescue Committee, had studied and worked with students in Beijing and had done some other really interesting volunteer work and research on microcredit in developing nations.  Then, out of the blue, I started working on a political campaign.  I saw one of those little flyers (where you tear off the phone number at the bottom) while walking down the hallway to class.  For some reason I called the number, met with a great woman named Megan, and was hired.

All I knew of the candidate was that his name was Jim Matheson. And, he was a Democrat.  I knew his dad was the Governor back in the 1980s, but not much else.  I started out making phone calls in Jim’s basement, and over the course of a year, I worked non-stop to get volunteers to help us out.  I remember we were canvassing in the south part of Salt Lake County in March and April—WAY too early for normal campaigns.  But, then again, it wasn’t a normal campaign.  We realized early on that you couldn’t just win big in the north part of the county, you also had to minimize your losses in the south part of the county.

Jim won the election, and he asked me to come to DC to work on issues related to the environment, agriculture, criminal justice, and campaign finance reform. The issues were great to work on, but when Jim’s district was gerrymandered from just part of Salt Lake County to nearly the entire south and east of the state (it became one of the largest districts in the country overnight), I came back to Utah to start developing relationships with people in Carbon County, Juab, Emery, Washington, Iron, and a bunch of other counties.  The work was challenging—not a lot of Democrats in some of those areas—but rewarding too.

All of this is to say that in the time I worked for Jim Matheson, the primary motivator—for me anyway—was to make our state a better place to live. I also cared deeply about providing realrepresentation to Utahns.  I think in some ways I was able to help do that, but I also realized the limitations.

Over the subsequent years, I pursued a legal degree and began working in a large law firm, but the call to public service (maybe even because the Truman Scholarship made me feel rather obligated) never abated.  I worked on some other campaigns, and then moved back to DC to work in the public sector for USDA.  More recently, I have engaged in a service-oriented business, but still I look around me and wonder what I can do to address the challenges facing my community.

Working for the House of Representatives and for USDA, you don’t get a lot of opportunity to dive in and really work with people – the federal government is rather removed, bureaucratic, and political – and I learned that often it is at the local level that a real difference can be made on the issues that directly affect individuals’ quality of life.

Part of my motivation for seeking public office now is that I am able to dedicate the time, energy and resources to being a valuable member of the Council, and to running for re-election in 2020.  I am not looking to launch a larger, ever-growing political career, but I am dedicated to this community and the Democratic Party.  I’ve spent nearly my entire life here.  I have lived on the east side and on the west side. I have run business in Magna and in Holladay, in West Jordan and Millcreek.  I have worked on issues important to this community for 20 years. And, I am ready to serve, to listen, and to work hard for you.

I feel like I have a special skill set that is particularly applicable today:  I have a legal background in the environment.  I know the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws and regulations.  I also have a small business background in healthcare.  I know Medicaid, the Utah Department of Health, and the ravages of mental health.

Ultimately, I am running for Salt Lake County Council, because I KNOW that together we can create MORE for our County, and I am ready to bring my expertise to the table and work hard on the issues that affect our daily lives. That way, we can create more clean air, not less.  Provide more healthcare, not less; and ensure more quality of life for everyone, not less.

Most importantly, I want to do this with you.  We can make a difference.

Because together we’re more.

Why Jeff Merchant is Running for Salt Lake County Council

February 8, 2019

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