Recently one of the newest writers to join Candidates.vote, Karen Salazar, had the opportunity of interviewing Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke, of Council District 6. Luke began his entry into the political world in middle school when he helped his vice principal run for the Utah State Legislature. It continued in college when he became the president of the College Democrats at the University of Utah and recruited other students to join the group. From managing campaigns with his company, Luke Strategies, Inc., he decided to step into the role of “candidate” himself and threw his proverbial “hat in the ring” and won. Enjoy reading the rest of Salazar’s interview with Luke who was elected in 2012 and this year, 2019, was elected by the rest of the Council to serve as Council Chair.
Candidates.vote – My first question for you is, how did you get your start in politics?
Luke –When I was little, the news was always on in our household, it was almost religious, and that sparked something in me that I found fascinating and was always very interested. I started volunteering on my first campaigns when I was in middle school and my vice principal ran for state legislator. I started going door-to-door for him as a kid and had my mom drive me down to the party headquarters and I’d make calls for candidates.
When I was in college, my involvement grew, I was President of the University of Utah College Democrats. I worked close to the Clinton-Gore campaign, trying to get students involved in that campaign and other campaigns as well. It morphed into campaign management; I ran several statewide campaigns, issue campaigns, bond, sales tax campaigns; things like that. When I ended up graduating, I worked for the advertising communications agency and did that for a few years and slowly got involved in state legislative work and doing some lobbying and that has led me to where I am now.
Candidates.vote – What made you decide to run for the Salt Lake City Council?
Luke– I had a lot of experience running campaigns and being behind the scenes. In 2011, there was a city councilor who I had some concerns with the way he was operating, so I tried to do some candidate recruitment. I couldn’t find anyone willing to run. I figured this is a position where I can actually do it. So, I decided to jump in and I ran.
It’s very different being a candidate versus being the consultant or the campaign manager. It was one of those things where I spent years recruiting candidates to run for office and it was odd to find myself in the position where I could not find any reason that I shouldn’t run. I figured it was time to put up or shut up if I was going to keep trying to talk people into running and wouldn’t even take that on myself. That was kind of hypocritical, so I figured, might as well throw my hat in.
Candidates.vote – You have past experience managing political campaigns in the past, what interested you in doing this?
Luke – From a very early age, I would follow the news and follow current events and politics, it was something that was always interesting. As I got involved it morphed into, instead of just helping; using the experience that I gained from my volunteering for candidates and I realized that I had some pretty decent ideas when it came to grassroot organizing and strategy.
Candidates.vote – What would you say is your favorite thing about your job?
Luke– What I really like is talking to and working with constituents and city residents and trying to help problem solve different issues. That interaction, while it’s not always pleasant because we talk to a lot of people that are angry; while it may be frustrating at times, it really is the most enjoyable part of the job for me.
Candidates.vote – Like you said, there are a lot of good things about your job when trying to help people but there’s also a lot of people upset with their situations.
Luke– You can’t take that personally. It’s hard, because when someone is yelling at you, it’s not necessarily them yelling at you, they’re frustrated and concerned and I always try to put myself in their shoes.
Candidates.vote– What skills would you say are necessary to be successful in your position?
Luke – You have to listen. You wouldn’t get involved if you didn’t think your ideas were good.I’ve never heard anyone say, “My ideas are terrible, so I’m going to run for office.” While you have a very high opinion of your ideas and your positions, you have to be able to listen to other people’s opinions. Be willing to change. If other people bring a point that you may not have thought of, sometimes you really may have to swallow your pride. There’s something that you may think you understand and you talk to someone who is in a different position, you realize that they could be right and you haven’t seen things from their side. You have to be able to adapt.
Candidates.vote – What advice would you give to someone interested in politics on the local level?
Luke– Get involved. The year is 2019, municipal elections are off-year elections. Usually if you’re getting involved in politics, people are interested in what they hear, what they see. We hear a lot about the President, we hear a lot about Congress, the US Senate, you know, federal things.
You don’t really hear about local government, but local government is really where all the decisions are made. That’s what I like about it, although it seems like its smaller and of less importance. We are responsible for the water that nearly half of the residents, not just in Salt Lake City but half of Salt Lake County depend on. You don’t think about your municipal service until your garbage wasn’t picked up or your toilet doesn’t flush. It’s the day-to-day impact that you have with city government that you don’t get with any other government. If someone is interested in local politics, this is the year to do it. In Salt Lake City we have nine candidates running for mayor.
My advice if you are interested, just make the call. A lot of times we talk ourselves out of things or we procrastinate to the point where we make it seem like it’s going to be a bigger issue than it seems. Get involved. It’s very easy to do that.
Candidates.vote – I really like what you just said and it’s very true, when people think of politics they think of Capitol Hill and Washington and these huge issues when in reality you have to start with the way you live your life, you have to start with the day-to-day living.Luke –That’s your quality of life, Congress doesn’t do anything for your quality of life. The President doesn’t do anything to make your life more comfortable. I’m not saying the federal issues aren’t important. Honestly you couldn’t pay me to go back to Washington, DC. I can’t think of anything more soul-crushing than that. The level of dysfunction is so high right now, nothing gets accomplished anymore. There’s no compromise, there’s no willing to collaborate, and that is miserable. I can’t think of anything worse. What I can accomplish in the city is far more important.