Kera Birkeland is the first Morgan County resident in at least the last two decades to be named as a national Republican Party delegate. She participated in the 2016 Republican National Convention that took place this week in Cleveland, Ohio.
At the national convention, Utah delegates are officially bound to vote for the Republican presidential nominee who was earlier elected by their home state. In Utah’s case, this would be Ted Cruz. This caused some unexpected grief for Birkeland.
Monday, dissenting delegates from several states including Utah were on the floor of the convention asking for a rules vote.
Microphones were turned off on the floor, so delegates were forced to shout their requests in order to be heard. “We were loud, and I’m sure to others, seemed obnoxious. The longer this went on, the more others around us, who supported Trump, got loud to counter us. The tension, in at least our area, was high,” Birkeland explained.
Birkeland said the crowd made horrible remarks to Senator Mike Lee as he walked out and she realized she was in unfriendly territory, but never expected what came next.
“I went into the bathroom and came out of my stall and there I was confronted by two women. They yelled at me, called me names. They said I should die. They said the police should be pulled from the Utah delegation and we should all die. They never touched me. They did not say they would kill me. They just said I should die.”
Although mainstream media has created a bit of a frenzy over the encounter, Birkeland played it down, clarifying that what should have been a private moment of frustration was turned into a media free-for-all.
Serving in small-town politics, as well as being a foster parent, makes you vulnerable to reprisal, so Birkeland is no stranger to ridicule. But emotions were running so high that day with the intensity of the situation that she had a moment which was unfortunately seen and recorded by other delegates and news media.
“It shook me at first. I came out of the bathroom crying, nothing major, just a few tears. A few delegates spoke with me about why I was crying and were kind. One delegate, who was told via email that she should be hung, told our Trump liaison what happened. He was sorry it happened,” said Birkeland. She went on to say that she told others she didn’t want to discuss it on air. “I knew that what happened in the restroom was a knee-jerk reaction by a very, very small portion of the people there. For the most part, we have been surrounded by amazing people who are there for positive change.”
Shortly thereafter, another man from the media came over and told Birkeland that they would run the footage of her crying if she didn’t share her story composed. “As usual, the media twisted things. The whole thing was blown WAY out of proportion.”
Birkeland and her husband, Lars, have lived in Morgan County for eight years. Her husband came to her defense on social media stating, “It is so unfortunate that our country has descended to this level. Seemingly everywhere we look, we see hatred and violence. What could possibly drive these people to a point where they would want someone to die–simply because they have differing political opinions?”
However, the stalwart delegate said she will not let the threats get her down, saying, “I’ll stay involved and keep fighting for what I believe. Our society really needs to change and start treating people with respect and decency.”
This power couple are small business owners in ventures including Oil Vault and Mountain Green Kids Club. She is the mother of five, a foster parent and former Morgan County Young Mother of the Year. She is active in Utah Mothers Association and MorePac.
She has been active with the county’s Republican Party for years, working on several campaigns for over five years, volunteering at events, serving as a state delegate for two years, and currently chairing the county party and serving as a member of the Utah Republican Party executive committee.
Birkeland is well-versed in the particulars of what can, and in her opinion, should, happen at the RNC and was disappointed at what happened. “Utah voted almost 70 percent for Cruz. We wanted to represent that and move on. I’m OK with uniting, but you don’t tell party members to shut up and fall in line. I think the party should acknowledge the voice of the people, small in numbers as they might be.”
She added that she is not “Never Trump,” as her aggressors wrongly assumed. “The roll call vote was never about Trump. It was about the National Republican Party showing transparency. I believe a roll call vote would have helped unite the Republican Party.”
During a roll call, the convention secretary goes one-by-one through the list of states alphabetically. The chair of each state delegation announces their state’s vote total. Utah announced all 40 of its delegate votes going for Cruz, however those votes were counted toward Trump in what Birkeland refers to as a “poke in the eye” to Utah’s Senator Mike Lee.
“I am severely disappointed in this process. We clearly gave our votes to Ted Cruz,” said Birkeland. She continued saying that they were told that based on state party rules, Utah votes can only count toward a candidate currently on the ballot, even though other states had votes counted toward candidates who have similarly suspended their campaigns.
She commented that since nearly all of the delegates are bound, Trump would still have a majority of delegates. But as representatives of their state, Utah delegates wanted to make sure that Utah voters had their voices heard even at the risk of being called “the most difficult delegation.” Birkeland said, “Everyone should be able to feel like their vote counted.”
Like Utah, not every state initially agreed with making Trump the Republican nominee. Utah joined eight other states such as Iowa, Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Maine, Idaho and Wisconsin in electing Cruz during earlier primary elections. Minnesota, Puerto Rico and District of Columbia elected Marco Rubio during their primary elections. Ohio, where the RNC is being held, was the sole state to elect John Kasich, their governor, during their primary.
On the upside, Birkeland praised the people of Cleveland. She said the people there have been “awesome.” From her Uber driver, Rick, to the bus drivers, welcome staff at the airport and all the many people volunteering at the RNC convention, everyone has been wonderful.
“My hope is to convey that our society needs to be more kind. I would love to see the Republican party be a party of many minds and many ideas who can come together and get things done. We should behave in a higher manner,” concluded Birkeland.
She wrapped things up with a quote from Mark Twain stating, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”