Walt Blackman could hardly believe that he was the first black Republican elected to the state Legislature. It’s true, though – the folks at the House checked it out for him.
He said it’s exciting to be a part of history now, but it wasn’t why he ran to represent Legislative District 6.
“I wanted to get elected because people are confident in my ability to lead and make good decisions,” Blackman said. “That’s how I won. I just happen to be able to have my cake and eat it, too.”
Kristi, my wife, is from Snowflake. Her family actually founded Snowflake. … The first time that I went up there, we were driving down Main Street, and there’s a statue right by the Mormon church with three gentlemen and a young lady coming out of a wagon. And I’m like, “That’s a cool statue.” And she’s like, “That’s my great-great-great-grandfather.”
Tell me about your Army service.
I grew up in a military family. My dad spent 26 years in the military. I was born on an Air Force base in Portugal, and I went right into the military soon after I got out of school. So for my whole life, I’ve either been a dependent of the military or I’ve actually served. My grandfather was also (in the military). He fought in World War II. We just come from a military service-oriented family.
I was what you call a tank commander. … I did that for 21 years. Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Egypt, Kuwait – I did the world tour without the frequent flier miles. … Of course, I went into combat a few times and was able to see the very worst of society, how a society can decay if people aren’t treated with respect and dignity and leaders aren’t focused on their responsibilities. My university, if you will, was the real world.
You’ve said you know what it looks like “when government oversteps its bounds and communities are not truly free.” Does a particular place stand out as an example?
Kosovo. If you know anything about how that conflict started, it was government overreach. They turned it into a dictatorship… and they started shooting people in the street. I’m not saying our country is going to get to that point. However, if we’re not careful about what we’re doing down here, if we’re not transparent and if we’re not reinforcing the fact that we are a sovereign state to the federal government, we’re going to have overreach. And if we’re not careful, we may overreach into the cities and towns and municipalities. I think it’s just as bad when we start to do things that the cities are responsible for. … We have to let local elected officials do their jobs. We’re there to assist, and an assist is not an unfunded mandate.
You’ve also said that you were driven to run because you noticed a lack of leadership in our state. Where have leaders fallen short?
Leadership is getting people to do something that they wouldn’t normally do under normal circumstances. Sometimes people don’t want to do the hard thing. It may mean we have to make some cuts in some areas, and we have to be able to stand to defend that. We may have to hold organizations accountable, like school boards. … And why haven’t we updated our funding formula? Maybe that’s a start. I don’t know. I’m just an Army guy.
During your military service, you were also a sexual harassment and assault prevention specialist.
When the military had the big sexual assault issue… they started a program called SHARP, Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program, to train victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators to receive reports and hold offenders accountable. People have actually gone to jail for some of the things that I’ve seen on the floor.
A service member could end up in jail for inappropriate contact, and that’s not penetrative rape, it’s touching someone where they don’t want to be touched. Careers have been ended for sexual harassment or jokes or innuendo. They’re really serious about that. This program took off, so – and I’m bragging on myself now – they took the best of their best, sent them to this school, SHARP academy. I did really well at that… and then when I retired, I was asked to go back and actually run the Army’s program. And I’m going to bring some of that to the Legislature. In order for us to get down and do the work of the people, we’ve got to clean our house. People want to come to work and get a job done. But if you come to work and some yahoo is doing whatever, you can’t get your job done. … I’m about compromise, but I will not compromise to excuse bad behavior.
Don Shooter was expelled for sexually harassing people at the Capitol. And now, David Stringer has been making inflammatory comments about race. How do you feel about their behavior?
With Shooter, inappropriate behavior, there’s no place for it. We should have zero tolerance. However, there should be an outside mechanism to investigate these allegations. … The second thing is when a legislator gets elected, they go to orientation. The only time they receive ethics training is during orientation, and it didn’t even really touch on the prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault. …That training needs to be in-depth, and it needs to be annual. If that were in place, folks can understand what sexual harassment is and they can stop it.
Stringer, this is the second time in six months that he’s made statements. I used to be an (equal opportunity adviser). That doesn’t mean that I’m a liberal. It means that I know what right looks like. Typically, in my experience, if someone has said that out loud, then they have said it behind closed doors. Should he have said it? He has a right to freedom of speech. However, when you broadcast it and you make people feel less than they are, you don’t really have a right to do that. … Should he be asked to step down? That’s not my call. However, it’s going to be very difficult for people to take us seriously if we don’t clean our own house.