He’s a former Salt Lake City councilman, now a Utah State Senator — Derek Kitchen and his husband, Moudi Sbeity, are the owners of Laziz Kitchen, one of Utah’s capital city’s hottest restaurants; which Senator Kitchen will describe to you as a “community living room”, and which grew from a stall at the city’s summer Farmer’s Market. Recently, Candidates.vote intern Michael Brownstein had the chance to talk with Utah Senate 2 Sen. Kitchen, who is also the Minority Caucus Manager for the Utah Senate Democrats and a graduate of the University of Utah.
Candidates.vote — What ended up inspiring you to get your start in politics?
State Sen. Kitchen — I’ve always loved politics and history and local government. My first real interaction with local government at the city level was back in 2012 when I opened up a business in Salt Lake City. Having to go through the process of getting a business license, paying property taxes, things like that. A couple years later I was able to open up a restaurant, work with the city’s redevelopment agency, and really got a deep understanding of how the city process works, and that was my intro into city government.
Candidates.vote – Aren’t you especially noted in Utah history for some other interaction with government and the judiciary aren’t you?
State Sen. Kitchen — I got involved in the marriage litigation here in Utah that ended up legalizing gay marriage. In that, I was able to get to know the community and all the major players. When that all came to an end back in 2014 I was encouraged to run for city council because of my experience working with the city and my understanding of politics. In 2015 I launched my first political campaign for the Salt Lake City council, and I ended up winning that seat, and represented City Council District 4 for about 3 and a half years, and then I was elected to the State Senate for District 2.
Candidates.vote — How do you balance your political and personal life?
State Sen. Kitchen — It’s a bit of a challenge, to be honest. Frequently both of those worlds kinda collide. So for instance, outside of politics I operate a small food production company and we do the Saturday Farmer’s Market downtown. And so when I’m working at the farmer’s market, constituents will come up to me and want to talk about policy or various neighborhood issues. I’ve learned that in this role of being a local elected official, my personal and elected life sort of collide a lot. I’m still trying to achieve balance, I do turn my phone off, choose when to check my email and when not to, try to keep some sort of structure in my life. It’s an ongoing challenge, to be honest.
Candidates.vote — What book are you currently working on reading, and what’s the best part of it?
State Sen. Kitchen — I’m reading a leadership development book called “Leadership on the Line”, by Ronald Heifetz, I picked it up at a leadership development course I took earlier this summer at Harvard, and the author’s a professor there. So far my favorite part has been the ability to step back from the problem or issue that I’m working on, and figure out a more strategic way to achieve the outcome that I’m looking for.
Candidates.vote — What would you consider your greatest failure, and on the flipside, your greatest success?
State Sen. Kitchen — A failure of myself and all the other Democrats in the legislature was our inability to make the case to the Republicans that the Medicaid replacement bill that passed was not good. I feel like that was a really bad bill and I voted against it, but I wish that I had been able to persuade others that it was a bad bill.
On the flipside, right as I was leaving the city council last year and going to the legislature, we were able to pass the first ever transit masterplan.
Candidates.vote — What was the most valuable lesson your parents taught you?
State Sen. Kitchen — Listen. They taught me to listen. It’s the simplest lesson, but to be patient and to be open minded is very useful. A lot of people come to the table with good ideas, some come with bad ideas, but only through listening and having an open heart and an open mind do you actually get to a consensus.
Candidates.vote — What college did you attend, and what made you go there?
State Sen. Kitchen — I went to the University of Utah. I went there because I wanted to stay close to home, and I had a small scholarship, so it was a good place for me to go, and it also allowed me to work full time and attend classes in the evening.
Candidates.vote — What’s your all-time favorite movie?
State Sen. Kitchen — I like Sci-fi, so I’m just gonna go ahead and say The Matrix.
Candidates.vote — What comfort food do you go for and why?
State Sen. Kitchen — I’m a big fan of pizza.
Candidates.vote – What’s your favorite place to visit in Utah?
State Sen. Kitchen — Canyonlands. I’d say Canyonlands or Capitol Reef.
Candidates.vote — Hot dogs or hamburgers?
State Sen. Kitchen — Hamburgers.
Candidates.vote — What newspapers/magazines/periodicals do you read, and do youread them in paper or digitally?
State Sen. Kitchen — I take the New Yorker Magazine weekly in paper, and then I read the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News and a lot of other local news outlets online. I also read the New York Times online, and listen to NPR on the radio.
Candidates.vote — What was your first real job? What did you learn from it?
State Sen. Kitchen — I worked as a shipping and receiving person at a mall, in a clothing store. I learned how to stay organized, how to manage tough employees, and how to work hard and early.
Candidates.vote — Do you have any pets, and if so, what are they?
State Sen. Kitchen –– I have a dog. She’s a husky, she’s about 5 or 6 years old. Her name is Kaya, and she’s a lot of fun.
Candidates.vote — What music do you enjoy listening to?
State Sen. Kitchen — I love all music generally, but I’ve been listening to blues a little bit lately, and some funk, electronic music. But to be honest, I’m a huge fan of hip-hop and rap, especially when there’s a political undertone to it. I really enjoy the emotion that incites.
Candidates.vote — What’s your preferred way to spend free time and why?
State Sen. Kitchen — I like to hike or read. Both are relaxing.
Candidates.vote — Who is your greatest idol/person you look up to and why?
State Sen. Kitchen — I have a lot of idols. Right now I’m really honored to know some of these candidates running for Salt Lake City mayor. I have a lot of admiration for people in higher office, but I honestly look to my peers and people who are doing work in my own community.
Candidates.vote — What is something you respect about your political opponents?
State Sen. Kitchen — How hard they work. One thing I noticed during both of my political campaigns is that my opponents work very hard. I knew that at the end of the day that if they won, we both put in a good effort.
Candidates.vote — And finally, if you could send a short message to anyone reading this, what would it be?
State Sen. Kitchen — Get involved in politics. Run for office, volunteer your time or money, get involved in your own community whenever you possibly can, because we need good people to step up and participate. So I would encourage everybody to get involved in politics.