Originally published in the Deseret News.
I remember the first time I heard about a guy named Ben McAdams. I was employed by the Salt Lake Chamber and working closely with Mayor-elect Ralph Becker on his transition team. The mayor-elect told me of his intent to bring on a sharp young attorney to oversee government relations for his administration. The new senior staffer was a Columbia law graduate who was leaving a lucrative position at a corporate law firm to enlist in public service. I took note and looked forward to meeting him.
In the years since, I’ve taken note many more times as McAdams has achieved significant public policy and political success in the Beehive State. As a senior staffer with Salt Lake City, he helped downtown Salt Lake City reinvent itself, as a legislator he fought for and achieved bipartisan victories on issues such as high-quality pre-kindergarten, and as a county mayor he helped create homeless resource centers and a plan for a convention-headquarters hotel. These are just a few of his noteworthy accomplishments in public service.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about “Ben.” He has a compelling life story. Raised in West Bountiful as a son of a schoolteacher mother and used car salesman father who was rarely around, McAdams made his way through college with Pell grants. His upbringing in a low- to moderate-income family and exposure to poverty-stricken areas while serving as a missionary in Brazil for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints left an indelible imprint on him. His public policy questions always seem to come from a pragmatic place of “How can I help and who can I lift?”
Ben governs with confidence and isn’t afraid to try big and hard things. He envisioned an international role for Salt Lake County and partnered with a Washington, D.C., think tank on the Global Cities Initiative, which planted seeds for Salt Lake City’s inland port. He used his considerable diplomacy skills to secure a non-discrimination ordinance protecting the LGBT population in Salt Lake City, a movement that eventually extended statewide thanks to his deft policy skills in the Utah Legislature. In both cases, he landed support from the LDS Church. He even spent two nights on the streets of Salt Lake City learning about the people and experiences of the homeless population. He then stepped up under significant political risk to secure locations for homeless resource centers.
It’s natural to ask, what can we expect next? I have a few predictions.
First, watch for Congressman-elect McAdams to move quickly from campaigning to governing. The campaign was hard and overly negative, but it’s time to move on. Watch for him to graciously thank Congresswoman Love for her honorable service. She represented the 4th Congressional District with integrity. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her public service.
Second, I’m a big fan of the productive middle, and that’s where McAdams uses his considerable skill. He said during the campaign that people are “tired of a broken Washington” and he wants to “start the healing.” Amen. Watch for McAdams to be part of the solution as Utah’s only representative in the House from the majority party. He will caucus with the Democrats, but govern as an independent. Instead of drawing lines, expect McAdams to build bridges.
Finally, watch for McAdams to lead a new generation of Utahns who are more racially and ethnically diverse, urban, environmentally minded and egalitarian. I predict Utah’s millennial population will enlist their full support for his independent and progressive voice. Salt Lake County residents will lead in this, but Utah County becomes more like Salt Lake County with each passing day. Urban Utah may have found their congressman.
After a climb from Salt Lake City government, to the Utah Legislature, to mayor of Utah’s largest county, and now to Washington, McAdams has a chance at representing the future of Utah politics. I’m excited to see where the “McAdams bus” takes him.