July | August 2017

Curt Bramble Takes to the Field

Utah Senator Traveled to Iraq to Teach New Legislators About Democracy

By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor
Utah Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble calls himself the “antithesis of a CPA.” This accountant likes to travel the world, scuba dive, backpack, travel by motorcycle and fly hot air balloons.
So it wasn’t a completely outrageous idea when the American Legislative Exchange Council asked in 2009 if he wanted to go to Iraq to train a group of newly elected legislators who would be serving on the Baghdad Provincial Council. The International Republican Institute asked the exchange council if it could help locate a policymaker who could train the new public servants about what it means to be a legislator and how a democracy works.
“I thought the implication was IRI would have other legislators (at the training session), I would be part of a group presenting,” Bramble said. “… I thought, ‘Well, OK, I don’t know what the course material is or the curriculum,’ but I signed up for the tour of duty. I get to JFK (airport) and it dawns on me that I hadn’t hooked up with any other legislators.
“… It turns out it was me, period. There was no course material; there was no curriculum. It was, ‘OK senator, what are you going to be doing for the next several days?”

Overcoming Differences

Bramble said the opening reception for the group of about 20 legislators looked “like a junior high dance.” The group was very diverse—Shiite, Sunnis and women—and each group stuck with its own members. The legislators at first doubted whether Bramble could understand the religious differences in Iraq and how hard that makes it to reach a consensus.
Bramble asked the group how many had heard of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whose 2008 presidential bid was marred by questions of whether Americans would vote for a Mormon. Bramble pointed out that Americans have been struggling with religion and religious toleration almost since the country’s founding.
“We were able to relate a little bit,” he said. “It gave us a point of reference.”
Bramble divided the legislators into four random groups and had them decide what they believed were the top issues they would face once they took office. It took three days, but they finally began working with each other and between the groups to reach a consensus.
“What stunned me was not only what the issues were, but how they prioritized them,” Bramble said. “… They came to unanimous agreement that the top issues were, number one, economic development, unemployment and the economy; number two, education; number three, ethics in government; number four, roads, infrastructure and water; and number five was health care. … Those (concerns) are universal, aren’t they?”

A Learning Experience

Bramble said the trip was also a learning experience for him, one that made him better appreciate what he has at home.
“We always talk about how the United States is this unique experiment, the laboratory of democracy,” he said. “… I think it (the trip) reaffirmed this profound recognition of how fortunate we are, as a country, to have embraced the concepts of liberty, individual liberties, freedom and self-determination.
“In Utah, we don’t have a high voter turnout. … This group, they put it all on the line to even run for office. Candidates for the office had been assassinated. For them, this was cutting-edge, a new frontier. They had not experienced the things we take for granted. It made me realize how blessed and fortunate we are to have the form of government and the protections we have.”
But would he go back to Iraq if he was invited? After all, he had to wear body armor as he was being driven from the airport to the hotel.
“In a heartbeat,” Bramble said. “It occurred to me when I got the first email, if you’re asking the brave men and women of the armed forces to put it all on the line to help establish freedom and self-determination in Iraq or anywhere else, what elected official wouldn’t step up and accept the invitation to help the folks in that country figure out who they are?”