On November 5th, 2020, the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) together with Orem Rotary co-hosted Congressman John Curtis for a panel regarding conservation efforts, economic development, and climate change in the House of Representatives. Orem Rotary is a branch of the Rotary International which works to eradicate polio around the world through international advocacy efforts. Since UIMF is focused on international advocacy that highlights Utah as a model of Sustainable Mountain Development, this partnership is particularly fitting.
As the President of UIMF and having the connections in the John Curtis Congressional Office, I was responsible for the logistics and planning of the event. I worked very closely with Gina Robie, Congressman Curtis’s district office scheduler, to make sure the Congressman was available to speak. We agreed on Wednesday, November 5th as the day to hold the panel. It was particularly great to speak with Congressman Curtis right after an election, so we jumped at the opportunity. I worked with the presidents of Orem Rotary, Dean Robinson and Clark Merkley, as well as with Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, to make sure we were all ready to go for the event.
The event itself was held over Zoom, as the pandemic is particularly bad in Utah and we wanted to take an abundance of caution to ensure all were safe. This made logistics for the event easy. I passed along a Zoom link to the Congressman and we were ready to go. We started the panel with Rotary’s typical opening, which includes a prayer, pledge of allegiance, and recitation of the four rotary points. After this, Rotary president Dean Robinson turned the time for me to introduce the Congressman and ask him some specific questions. When the panel began, I first congratulated the Congressman on a successful reelection campaign after he won a projected 69 percent of the vote. I asked how he was feeling after the election, to which he replied that he was feeling relieved, but tired. The Congressman has run for office three times in three years, which has made him very tired. He said he was looking forward to a break from running so much. I then asked him how he felt to receive such a high percentage of the vote, to which he replied that he was grateful so many Utahns trusted him that much to run. He said it’s sometimes hard for him because he would love to win all of the votes, but he reconciles the fact that he cannot please everyone.
After these initial questions, I wanted to talk about public lands, sustainable development, and foreign policy- all areas the Congressman knows well. I specifically asked the congressman how he approaches being a conservative member of Congress, yet working so closely with climate change activists. He was thoughtful and measured in his responses. The Congressman believes that there is no problem with conservatives advocating for climate change policy. He went on further to say that conservatives care about the land and environment just as much as those across the aisle, but their care manifests differently. On the subject of foreign policy, I asked if the Congressman anticipated any large foreign policy changes in the new Congress, or if things would stay the same. The Congressman remarked that he hoped to build better relations with important countries, like China, and hoped those challenges could be addressed further in the new Congress. I asked if he is concerned with how China is approaching their foreign policy, given his experience in East Asia. He remarked that he held a deep love for the Chinese people, and hopes that the government of the PRC will reflect how loving the people are.
Following his insightful remarks, then questioning was available to all participants, with the majority of the questions coming from Rotarians. The Congressman shared that he himself is a rotarian and that he is always proud to speak to members, wherever they may be. It was so great to see that a man like John Curtis is a part of an organization as localized as Rotary. Other questions were related to the election, COVID, and any potential Congressional hearings that are upcoming.
Overall, the event was a success. Given the difficult situation posed by COVID, we were able to still hold a successful event and bring in a notable speaker to discuss important aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals. Both us and the Congressman expressed hopes to see each other next time face-to-face. .
Samuel Elzinga, President, Utah International Mountain Forum