Yes, it’s intimidating enough to be sitting down for a Q & A with the head of a think tank for which when it speaks, an entire state (Utah) listens…very closely. Yet, it’s the setting for the meeting with Rick B. Larsen, President and CEO of the Sutherland Institute, which can literally overwhelm the senses as you sit in a second-floor office with floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping at 45 degrees north to east at the corner of Church and State in downtown Salt Lake City.
Named for George Sutherland, the first Utahn to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court
Founded in 1995 as a think tank – 501(c)(3)
Those windows…those windows – remind you this is the heart of something unique in this supposed American desert. North across the street from you is Temple Square, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ very own Mecca. Rising to the north from there, on an aptly named “Capitol Hill” and capped beautifully with a white marble parapet and copper dome, is Utah’s State Capitol. And then right before you, just out the window as the city’s TRAX people-moving system comes and goes, stands on a pedestal the bronze statue of the Mormon Moses, Brigham Young.
Candidates.vote –So this is quite the location you have here. It would almost be intimidating to come to work here every day?
Larsen – (The total gentleman in an age where there are few and far between.) With a smile states; there is a practical reason for it – that is, the corner of Church and State and the institute’s proximity to it. The board wanted a location that was powerful. A place made for, and where, there can be lofty conversation.
Candidates.vote –Well, I’m not sure my first question fits that description, but it’s the one lately I’ve been starting all these Q&A’s with. So Rick are you a hamburger or cheeseburger kind of guy?
Larsen (Chuckling) –Definitely cheeseburger.
Candidates.vote –Pickles or no pickles.
Larsen –Pickles. And of course my favorite place for all of this is Hires Big H. (This particular drive-in Larsen references is iconic in Utah politics. A favorite place for politicians, citizens, and lobbyists to come together in a neutral setting.) Big H was me and my wife’s favorite place long before I ever took this job. My history of cheeseburgers there goes well beyond work.
Candidates.vote –So what book is it we might find on Rick Larsen’s nightstand or desk at home?
Larsen – Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Nationalism, Populism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy”. Here at work I’ve started re-reading “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” (by Doris Kearns Goodwin).
Candidates.vote –That second one you mention. The one you are re-reading; the reason for that doesn’t have anything to do with the fact the Legislature is meeting there on the Hill in its 45-day session would it?
Larsen –There are some recurring references in the book I wanted to go back to and study. Never lend me a book. I write notes all over them and then go back to those when things might come up. And yes, I’ve gone back to it for that very reason you ask. Every legislative session there comes that moment of personal and political beliefs being at odds.
Candidates.vote –Sounds to me as if you are the perfect person to answer another question I’ve been putting to all interviewees lately. How do you describe what is going on in “politics” to people right now when some actually see the word as having become, maybe a bit “dirty”?
Larsen –The political process was not intended to be this; what we are seeing today. It was meant to be a competition of ideas, but somewhere along the way contempt was injected and that’s what has brought us to where we are today.
I recommend to people they read The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America by Arthur Brooks. Conservatives are compassionate people. If you don’t balance all of those things (Fairer, Happier, Prosperous), you don’t sound compassionate.
Candidates.vote –At the beginning you mentioned “Lofty conversations” having to do with the place we’re sitting and visiting right now.
Larsen –What the location and the lofty conversations says to me is; let’s not forget where we came from. I worry about a generation out there that does not read enough. They rely more on ideology than history and what it has and can teach us. A generation that thinks maybe socialism isn’t so bad.
Candidates.vote –In not forgetting the history of this place you call home, what are some of the things you enjoy about living and working here?
Larsen –My wife and I live here on purpose. We love the arts and what Utah has to offer with its ballet, opera and theater. We both love music, food and good films. And I never have to apologize to her for having the news on at night. She’s a news junkie too.
And we both love Mediterranean and Indian food. There is a restaurant here in the city that is wonderful and full of flavors and dishes we love. The restaurant is Mazza, and we both enjoy going there.
In other places around the country, I believe people don’t have enough time to just think. I love the mountains and places here where I can go and just do that – think.
Candidates.vote –In that time to think, what would you recommend people have in those thoughts?
Larsen –We need to realize there are two sides to a conversation or idea. And you need to pause and remember, or realize that before you speak. We have an experienced, committed thoughtful staff here who are committed to two sides of the story. You do those things and it makes for a better conversation.
Candidates.vote –You’ve mentioned many books in our time together. You have to have a favorite? What is it?
Larsen –Now you’re going to paint me in a corner. It’s “1776” by David McCullough. There are so many great lives to read about, not just in “1776”. You have Washington, Churchill, and Lincoln. Our nation has been part of the greatest drama ever played out!
To contact Larsen or learn more about this Utah think tank go to www.sutherlandinstitute.org.