Three Utah politicians played major roles in the recent Republican National Convention — two of whom are seeking office this November. Senator Mike Lee proudly cast Utah’s 40 Republican delegate votes for President Donald Trump. Both Burgess Owens, the Republican nominee for Utah’s fourth congressional district, and Sean Reyes, Utah’s incumbent Attorney General, spoke as well. Participation in nominating conventions is typical for party members, but this year’s RNC was anything but typical.
Instead of laying out a clear issues-based platform and inspiring voters, the convention provided a platform for fear-mongering and misleading attacks on the Democratic Party and strained defenses of Trump. In his nomination acceptance speech alone, Trump lied more than 20 times. Participating in this year’s RNC is indicative of a lack of moral leadership. Owens and Reyes cast Utah’s interests aside and chose to lend credibility to a performance steeped in lies and conspiracy theories.
In a pre-recorded speech for the RNC, Owens described Black Lives Matter protests across the country as “lawlessness supported by the radical left.” Owens not only mischaracterized protestors as violent criminals — the overwhelming majority of protests organized in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were peaceful despite police aggression — he also misidentified the party of “lawlessness.” Trump has vocally supported violence to “dominate” protestors, from D.C. to Portland, to prop himself up as “the law and order president.”
This rhetoric is not without consequences. The night before Owens’ speech, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Trump supporter, shot and killed two people and wounded a third during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. We do not know if Rittenhouse watched the first night of the RNC, but if he did, he may have felt prompted to “patrol” Kenosha protests after hearing that protesters in any city are a danger to the entire country. By continuing to portray protestors as dangerous criminals in his speech, Owens endangers millions of Americans, including thousands of Utahns.
In his speech, which aired on the final night of the convention, Reyes declared, “President Donald Trump is a fierce warrior against human trafficking… [his administration] has done more to combat human trafficking than any other administration in modern history.” In reality, the Trump administration has increased the risk of trafficking in already vulnerable communities and limited the resources available for victim recovery. Additionally, Trump’s well-wishes for alleged child trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell were profoundly upsetting to survivors.
If Trump’s record is so poor on this issue, why would Reyes give a speech focused on human trafficking at the RNC? Perhaps it is a nod to the QAnon conspiracy, a set of theories which centrally agree Trump is working dismantle a network of pedophiles and sex traffickers that includes Hollywood celebrities, public figures and Democratic officials. Notably, Trump has failed to denounce the conspiracy even though QAnon is “very likely to motivate some domestic extremists … to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.” Reyes is familiar with the theory, he recently postponed a rally after public concern that one of the organizing partners had ties to QAnon. He should understand the dangerous implications of falsely promoting Trump as a champion against human trafficking.
Participating in the RNC is not required of party members, both former President George W. Bush and Senator Mitt Romney skipped the event for the second time. Owens and Reyes chose to participate, to lie for their party and to flirt with conspiracy, a decision indicative of their character. But this flawed disposition isn’t new for these candidates, both Owens and Reyes have problematic records.
As a congressional candidate, Owens helped raise money for the allegedly fraudulent We Build the Wall foundation and signaled support for the QAnon conspiracy. He has also been accused of plagiarizing content in his book, “Why I Stand,” from sites like Wikipedia. Lying to 17.3 million Americans about the reality of BLM protests was not an accident, it is a natural escalation. If elected to the House, there is no reason to believe Owens will cease misleading constituents on matters ranging from his personal integrity to issues of national importance.
During Reyes’ tenure as Utah’s top law enforcement officer, he has lied about using campaign contributions from a company under investigation from his office and has championed state contracts with surveillance companies like Banjo, a for-profit company run by his friend. Under Reyes’ direction, Utahns have become test subjects for technology designed to conduct mass, involuntary body scans of large crowds. Using human trafficking as a political prop is also nothing new for Reyes — he staged an unnecessary, self-promoting undercover mission at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. If re-elected as Utah’s AG, I have no doubt that Reyes will continue to use his position to benefit himself, his friends and his party over Utahns.
As Utahns complete their ballots in the coming weeks, voters should think twice before filling in the circle next to the names of Owens or Reyes. These candidates have repeatedly shown a distinct lack of character, courting controversy and misleading the public long before participating in this year’s RNC. Neither are fit to hold public office in Utah. Instead, Ben McAdams, a champion for clean air, suicide prevention and fiscal responsibility, should be re-elected to the House and Greg Skordas, who has promised to stand up to local and national leadership on behalf of Utahns, should be elected as Utah’s new Attorney General.