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News » Private Eye

My Tipping Point



I've been a Democrat since before I was old enough to vote. At just 20 years old, my Greek immigrant grandfather came to the United States in 1906 from the island of Crete. In a few more years, he enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I. If you're ever in Vernal, you can see his name on the war memorial there—Emanuel Nebavlakis. Some years after that, he became a naturalized citizen, earning the right to vote for public officials for the first time in his life. The Crete he left behind was under Ottoman Turk dominion in 1906. He never had the chance to vote in Crete.

After his arrival here, my grandfather witnessed all kinds of bad behavior not usually found on the pages of American history books. He was victim to discrimination in the form of hiring practices, living quarters, pay disparities and full-on violence against his fellow Greeks. The Ku Klux Klan of the time burned crosses above immigrant homes in Carbon County where he lived. As an early union man, he was friends with a fellow Cretan and union organizer named Louis Tikas who was murdered (along with 25 others including 11 children) by the Colorado National Guard at Ludlow, Colorado, during the Colorado Coalfield War. He worked in the mines owned by such luminaries as the Rockefeller family where the company paid him in script, cheated him at the coal scale and priced the life of a mule over that of a human being.

So, when he did vote for the very first time, I'm sure it went something like this: He got a haircut, combed his hair perfectly, shaved, splashed on some Old Spice and dressed in his very best clothes. He put on his fedora and stuck a handkerchief in his front vest pocket. He gathered with other immigrant Greeks and made his way to his voting district. Inside, he signed his name, took his ballot into the booth and proceeded to vote straight-ticket Democrat, a practice he strictly adhered to until he died in 1979. Voting was his way of getting even and doing his part for change.

When it came my turn to vote for the first time, he pointed his 90-year-old finger at me and said, "Vote for the Deem-o-craats, sonny. Just the Deem-o-craats. They heppa the vorking man. They heppa the leetle man." I'd heard that the whole time I knew him, so it was no surprise when he added, "Re-pooob-li caans are doorty no goot sons a ma beetches."

Who was I to argue? I grew up in Bingham, a mining town of blue-collar immigrants who were probably all straight-ticket Democrats. Besides, he came by his strong views honestly—he and nearly everyone around him, in some measure, had been screwed over by the Republican establishment his entire life. If my grandfather wanted me to be a Democrat, then by god and by golly, I'm going to be a Democrat. It would kill him to know that over the years I've voted for a Republican here and there and today count a good many Republicans as friends.

Now, 40 years beyond my first vote, I'm being asked to switch parties long enough to vote in the Republican primary, then switch back to being a registered Democrat. The reason there's a push for that is that's the Republican primary may very well be the election that settles who becomes our next governor. The Democratic challenger, Chris Peterson, has his work cut out for him. Much of Utah would vote for a Republican Judas before a Democrat Jesus, so Peterson has a real disadvantage. One thing he has in my book is that he's pledged to privatize Utah's liquor industry. No one else dares to say that, apparently.

However, I'm not going to switch parties for five seconds unless someone gives me a good reason to—like pledge support for the causes I believe in. The crux of the party switcheroo gambit is I'm supposed to vote for anyone but Greg Hughes as he is seen as too extreme for Utah. OK, he's an original Trumper. I'm not voting for him on that predication alone, but I need a reason to flip that's better than, "anyone but Greg." Also, I fear switching parties will be like when I sign up for a new app. If I forget to cancel in 30 days I'm stuck paying for it for life. I can't be a Republican for life.

So, if it matters to the two Republican frontrunners—former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and current Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox—please, give me a reason. I have three. Pick even one, guys.

One: Tell the Utah hospitality industry that you'll get Utah out of the liquor business and you will be fair to the local distillers and brewers that mean so much to Utah's economy and you will not target their products for delisting from liquor stores. Two: Disavow the divisive actions and debasing behaviors of President Trump. If he's your leader, you're not my governor. Simple as that. Three: George Floyd died over a week ago. What is your plan? Not words, not platitudes. What do you see? Riots or protests? What will you specifically do to make Utah a better place? And spare me talking about civility. Every Republican running today is holding a scale. My grandfather knew what that meant. He knew you could lie and cheat. Not all did. Which are you?

If that doesn't happen, then I'm sticking right where I am, in the Democratic party. Let the chips fall where they may. My grandfather became a Democrat because people literally tipped the scales against him. I'm not in a tipping mood right now.

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