A Navajo, a Mormon and a Democratic Socialist: it sounds like it might be the start to one of those “walked in to a bar” jokes, but all three descriptors apply to one candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives: James Courage Singer.
Singer is the Democratic Party’s nominee for Utah’s Third Congressional District. He is running to fill the position currently held by Republican John Curtis, who was elected in a 2017 special election when Jason Chaffetz resigned. The district includes Grand and San Juan counties, and extends north to encompass the cities of Orem and Provo.
Singer was in Moab on Friday, Aug. 10, for a meet and greet with the Grand County Democratic Party.
Other stops he said he intended to make included Monument Valley, where he planned to attend a campaign “kick off” for Willie Grayeyes, a candidate for San Juan County Commissioner. After that, Singer said he was visiting the small community of Westwater in San Juan County.
“They are a 30-second drive from Blanding, and they have no electricity and no running water,” Singer said.
According to Singer, there are differing opinions as to which agency should provide the electricity and water services to the Westwater community.
“Some people say, why should we give them water and electricity if they can’t afford it? Other people say the tribe should be doing it,” Singer said.
To Singer, the federal government shares in the responsibility to create the infrastructure.
“The responsibility of the federal government is to empower and protect its people and its resources,” he said. “It needs to provide the funding and projects to make sure everyone has the basic necessities of life.”
He said that in the case of Westwater, the federal government has a treaty obligation to provide services, but has not yet done so.
Singer’s platform (www.JamesSinger.org) states that he supports investments in rural and tribal infrastructure and economic development. He believes that climate change is “not up for debate” and “solving environmental degradation is the pressing question of our time.”
Singer said his political philosophy and goals are shaped by his identity as a Navajo and a Mormon, as well as his background in sociology, which he said has given him an understanding of “how society works at structural and systemic levels.”
“Hózhóón,” Singer said. “It means, ‘walking in harmony.’ It is balance. Everything that Navajos do is supposed to have this balance. Wealth inequality — that’s out of balance. Places with greater equality, how are their social problems? Way lower.”
Singer, who completed a religious mission to Argentina, said, “As a Mormon, if ‘The worth of souls is great in the sight of God,’ it means I treat my brothers and sisters equally. It means we love one another. ‘It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.’”
Singer worked for the Navajo Nation-based Diné Policy Institute and then obtained his master’s in community leadership at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
He is currently working on a PhD in the sociology of labor markets and social policy at the University of Utah, and at the same time, is a Salt Lake Community College Diversity Fellow in Sociology and Ethnic Studies. At Westminster College, he also works as an adjunct professor in the Master of Arts of community leadership program, where he teaches social change theory.
Singer said that the current American political realm “doesn’t look at things sociologically.”
ECONOMICS, WELFARE AND MINIMUM WAGE
“Everything revolves around a hyper-individualist mindset,” Singer said. “It doesn’t take into account the person’s situation. ‘Pulling up by the bootstraps’ — the data shows that doesn’t happen.”
Social mobility has declined in the past 40 years, he said.
“Postwar there was still broad economic prosperity. That all changed when we adopted neo-liberal policies, supply-side economics. But instead of ‘all boats rising,’ some boats have holes in them and are starting to sink. Wages have been pretty much flat since the 1980s. They haven’t risen, even though productivity has gone up,” Singer said.
Singer tied this decline in prosperity to the creation of low wage jobs, and the “breakdown” of labor unions.
“If you had negotiations, service work wouldn’t be so bad. It wouldn’t be luxurious, but you wouldn’t be worried about making ends meet,” Singer said.
“Look at Walmart,” Singer said. “They are making massive profits, but their employees aren’t making good wages. The ability to pay them is there. There is a conscious decision to not have that occur.”
Singer emphasized that he doesn’t want to “pit workers against small business owners.”
“Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy,” he said. “We should be doing what we can to support them, instead of large corporate chains.”
“It’s really a question of, how can the government protect and empower rural communities?” Singer said. “I want to be able to offer the kinds of tools so citizens and community leaders can make the right kind of decisions.”
One of the ideas that he wants to explore is the idea of universal basic income.
“I love this idea,” Singer said.
Singer said he would also like to see adequate funding for child care, college and food.
“If we are able to adequately fund our welfare state, like other places do, we would see a dramatic reduction in the cost of living in Moab,” he said.
Adequately funding welfare could be achieved in a number of ways, he said.
“It could take the form of direct subsidy, as is done in the Netherlands. Other times, it looks like tax credits,” he said.
Some people may feel ashamed to receive a universal income stipend, subsidies, or tax breaks, partly because of the stigma attached to welfare, he said.
“Part of it is overcoming that stigma,” he said. “The richest in society are benefiting the most due to corporate tax breaks,” he said.
Singer is advocating to increase minimum wage, and said minimum wage needs to be adjusted to meet the demands of an area’s cost of living.
BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT
On the issue of public lands, Singer said, “It would be great for Congress to pass something to preserve Bears Ears as President Obama designated it.”
He said staffing the area as a national monument with locals who know and love the land would be a key to preventing degradation of the land.
The Bears Ears region is inappropriate place for oil and gas extraction due to its cultural and religious significance to the Navajo people, he said, and likened it to putting an oil rig in Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
Singer also said oil and gas extraction in the region isn’t “the most lucrative.”
“Coal is on the way out,” he said. “It’s a 19th-century fuel, and we are a 21st-century society. We should be investing in solar, wind, geothermal.”
Congressional candidate supports adjusting minimum wage to meet cost of living
“If we are able to adequately fund our welfare state, like other places do, we would see a dramatic reduction in the cost of living in Moab.”