by Maggie Judi
Paul Walker grew up in the shadow of the horsehead on Mountain View Road in Monticello. A spot in town where a kid could hear the din of baseball games on star lit summer nights and see the bright Friday night lights of the football games from his front porch in the fall.
He recalls his formidable years beneath the Blues, “What is appealing about Monticello in my memory is the access to the mountain – we rode our bikes to South Creek all the time, and then later to Loyds Lake. And of course, as we got older, we could drive and explore many more places by vehicle or by foot.
“Also, in town, our weekend activity of ‘dragging Main’ seemed quite fulfilling. It’s amazing how such a mundane practice (with lower gas prices of course) can be satisfying. But we know now that it was simply because we were with our friends, and that’s what made it matter.”
These days, Walker is a professor of English at Murray State University in Murray, KY and is running for the Kentucky First District Congressional seat in a democratic primary that will be decided May 22.
And even though Murray is 1,473 miles by freeway from Monticello, it’s those lessons learned cruising along our tiny main street in southeast Utah that still inform this congressional candidate.
Paul Walker took the leap from teaching young 20-somethings all about literature, to potentially writing and sponsoring state bills and laws in part because of his connection the hopeful youths that populate his classrooms.
“I first decided to run because of concern for my students,” he explains in a recent Kentucky public television interview.
He says that they begin their educations with the expectation of getting a great job and instead are leaving, “burdened with debt.”
Walker is a man who first and foremost identifies his career in politics as a man who talks less and listens more.
He says of meeting and developing empathy for his future constituents, “This is kinda fun; it’s fun to be this person who gets to meet new people. It’s fun when people come up to me to ask questions, even when they are critiquing my speeches! I enjoy that interchange.
“It’s really remarkable to have an excuse to interact with strangers.”
Walker is soft spoken and thoughtful, as he relays the values and experiences that his formidable years helped in shaping his present political narrative.
“The things that our community [in Monticello] was really good at, caring for our neighbors, caring for the well being of the land, caring for the diversity of people... All of that is what my stance is; it’s kind of how I look at the world. What a privilege it was to grow up there!”
Walker, the son of Mel and Illene Walker, first got a taste of public service by spending three summers in and around the Bears Ears, Abajo, and Dark Canyon areas, fixing trails and fighting fires for the US Forest service.
He served an LDS mission, earned a degree in public relations from BYU, and spent three years working in New York City before marrying and settling in Flagstaff, AZ.
He went back to school, getting a masters and a doctorate in rhetoric, and accepted a job at Murray State. He’s been a Kentuckian for eleven years now and loves the verdant midwestern/southern state.
He particularly loves the time spent with his three daughters when they come to spend the summers with their dad away from the dry heat of Flagstaff.
Paul and his girls, Claire (14), Rachel (11), and Maggie (9) love to spend time exploring Kentucky, its unique people and places.
He is excited to bring them back to Monticello this summer to introduce them to the place he called home for so many years. The place that shaped him and that is arguably still informing how he raises his own kids!
Walker is hopeful that his candidacy will result in a win, of course. When asked about his resolve to try his hand at politics he says, “I believe, basically, that all people are good. We are just as capable as our founders of doing great things.”
He says, “I think of the potholes in my neighborhood. There is no way that I could fix them on my salary!” He explains that taxes don’t have to be seen as a burden, but when used appropriately he says, “Taxes can be seen as an investment.”
It is an investment in the people who pay them, and in the communities who collectively fix potholes and benefit from the investment in infrastructure.
And this idea, is one of the most inviting things about Paul Walker. His ability to see potential in those around him is a refreshing quality for a politician.
Perhaps the years of teaching bright, young, hopeful minds has worn off on him. His quiet positivity has most assuredly worn off onto the Murray State students.
Whether it’s potholes, or political problems, Walker’s solution is simple and strong. He believes the answer to many problems lies within the people of Murray, KY, of Monticello, UT and all of America.
In his steady, quiet, and thoughtful manner, he states, “If we could just look at ourselves as capable, all of us together have an amazing collective power to make great things happen.”
Paul Walker learned to look at himself as capable beginning in San Juan County. He lists many people who he remembers as formative examples and leaders who taught him that confidence that will hopefully carry him into congress 1,473 miles away in his new Kentucky home!
To find out more about Paul Walker’s candidacy, visit www.ket.org/ or votepaulwalker.com