Date: December 16, 2019 (Season 1, Episode 6 – Part 1: 30 min. & 0 sec. long). Click Here for the Utah Dept. of Culture and Community Engagement version of this Speak Your Piece episode. Are you interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click Here. This episode was co-produced by Brad Westwood and Chelsey Zamir, with help (sound engineering and post-production editing) from Jason Powers from the Utah State Library Recording Studio.
This SYP episode is an interview with Rodney Decker, former reporter on KUTV Channel 2, with SYP host Brad Westwood on his 2019 book Utah Politics: The Elephant in the Room. Decker’s experiences as an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War, developed in him a healthy measure of skepticism. Add a knack for deep journalistic research, and an equal measure of careful and thoughtful thinking, Decker developed a “tell it like it is” approach in his writing and later in his televised reporting. The same may be said of Decker’s book which discusses Utah’s political climate from the 1890s to 1970s.
Decker’s task in writing this book was to describe, plainly, Utah’s complicated late 19th and early 20th century political climate, which led, in the mid-20th century, to Utah becoming a bastion of social conservative thinking, along with a near religious alignment with the Republican Party. Although the state and the Republican Party haven’t always been inextricably linked, Decker argues that starting after World War II, the LDS Church started to align with the socially conservative and business-friendly Republican Party, mostly in reaction to the changes in civil rights, political and social mores, and sexual attitudes that rippled through mid- to late-20th century America.
So, what changed? Decker explains the turning point for the political climate in Utah starting in the mid-1960s and onward. In 1969 Decker adds that nearly three-quarters of Americans thought sex outside of marriage was always or almost always wrong. By the 1980s as few as a third of Americans still held that view. Social norms and marital customs were changing and the conservative beliefs for members of the LDS Church largely resisted this rapid social change. Due to the population of Utah as majority LDS, the Church carried Utah’s political majority, veering towards social conservatism and Republicanism.
Bio: Perhaps one of Utah’s most well-known and respected journalists, Rod Decker retired in 2017 as a senior political reporter at KUTV Channel 2. Before this he was a columnist and editorial reporter at the LDS Church owned Deseret News. Altogether Decker had a 45-year career in journalism, with degrees from the University of Utah and the University of Chicago in political science. A Harvard Nieman Fellow in journalism, Decker also served as military intelligence officer in the Vietnam War. He is the author of one fiction novel “An Environment for Murder” (Signature Books, 1994) and “Utah Politics: The Elephant in the Room” (Signature Books, 2019).
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