Modern politics often puts ‘symbolism over substance,’ Rep. John … –

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OREM — With more than a year to go before the 2024 presidential election, some voters are already dreading a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

But elected leaders are a reflection of the electorate, so voters need to prioritize difference qualities if they want different outcomes, Utah Rep. John Curtis said Tuesday morning. Curtis, a Republican, spoke about what he sees as the problems plaguing the body politic as part of the Sutherland Institute’s Congressional Series at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies in Orem.

He laid out 10 reasons he believes Americans are losing faith in Congress, many of which tie back to perverse incentives that encourage gridlock and partisan fighting over cooperation.

“Many come to the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol now not to legislate, but to be activists, create viral moments and pass blame on others,” he said. “This creates an environment that promotes government by crisis.”

Although Congress often passes legislation with an “overwhelming bipartisan majority,” traditional news outlets and social media users often focus more on the dysfunction, meaning there is money and notoriety to be made by leaning into it, he said.

He recalled several unnamed colleagues in the House who held up a vote on Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s speakership earlier this year, and used their opposition to solicit funds for their donors in order to “keep up the fight.”

“Those who act like spoiled teenagers raise large amounts of money and get lots of TV time,” Curtis said.

Voters on both sides of the aisle are too willing to put ideology over qualifications or honesty, he added, which benefits the extreme elements on either side. Referencing embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. — who faces a litany of allegations of lying about his personal wealth and business success during his 2022 House campaign — Curtis said, “We like a good speech better than good work.”

“Why do we vote for people that no one else would hire?” he asked. “Yes, the media needs to do a better job of vetting. Yes, the watchdog groups can do better. But this one, I’m putting right on the backs of each one of us. Voters bear the reponsibility of electing good and qualified people. It’s not enough to be swayed by good speech. Look at the person and look at the character of that person. Look for patterns of success in their lives. (For) elected leaders, elected office shouldn’t be their first success.”

Dating back to his time as mayor of Provo, Curtis says he has regularly been asked by constituents why he isn’t “more of a fighter.” But he said he feels politics today often puts “symbolism over substance,” ignoring the work that goes into passing important legislation.

He acknowledges that people feel a real frustration with government because of a variety of ongoing social, economic and political challenges the country is facing, but those problems can’t be solved without bipartisan cooperation.

“I wish people would stop and think of any other setting when you’re trying to accomplish something, and if you go into it and you call your colleagues names and you yell at them and embarrass them and then you turn around and ask for their support with a policy or an initiative or anything like that, are you likely to get it?” he said.

“It troubles me that I haven’t figured out how to promote myself … as a fighter in the way that they view ‘fighter,’ but I’m also not willing to go there because you sacrifice the ability to get things done.”


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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.

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