Cushman: A Vote for McMullin is a Vote for the Utah Way


Xiangyao Tang

The Utah State Capital in Salt Lake City, Utah on Jan. 16, 2022. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


This November, Utah will have the “strangest Senate race in America,” with independent challenger Evan McMullin taking on incumbent Sen. Mike Lee. McMullin, a former Republican turned independent, now has the support of the Utah Democratic Party in a cross-partisan effort to get Lee out of office.

Initially, I felt hesitant about voting for a candidate with whom I have some strong disagreements with, but Utah deserves a candidate who embodies the good things about our state, regardless of party affiliation. We deserve Evan McMullin.

Mike Lee is Not the Utah Way

Utah consistently leans red, with 54% of Utah voters identifying as Republicans and 46% as Democrats or independents. But as a blue voter, I’ve witnessed Utah’s Republican leaders step away from party lines to do what they feel is right.

Take, for example, Sen. Mitt Romney or Gov. Spencer Cox. While both are registered Republicans, they demonstrate integrity by moving left when their values don’t align with their parties. For instance, Romney made history after voting to impeach Donald Trump, a member of his own party. That decision earned backlash from the GOP, but Romney stood by his morals. Cox, too, stepped away from the Republican line to support the LGBTQ+ community when he vetoed Utah’s trans sports ban.

All of this illustrates the “Utah way,” a less partisan, kinder type of politics at work here in the Utah State Legislature. University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank describes the Utah way as politics defined by “a strong sense of community” and “practicality.” The Utah way makes this state feel unique because we’re willing to set aside differences to pass important legislation and approach each other with kindness. It makes me feel like I have leaders I can trust and look up to.

Mike Lee is not one of those leaders.

Lee does not embody the compassionate conservatism or bipartisan compromise Utah is known for. Lee was the lone vote against a bill intended to get disability benefits to those suffering from ALS more quickly. He blocked legislation that would have established Smithsonian museums for Latinos and women. And additionally, Lee was one of only six senators to vote against the COVID-19 relief bill, which 70% of Americans supported. In fact, Lee votes “no” more than most Senators, showing his clear unwillingness to support non-party line policies.

Beyond his “no” mentality, Lee initially supported Trump’s baseless election fraud claims, going as far as contacting state lawmakers for information that could stop the certification. While ultimately voting to certify the 2020 election results, his actions still amplified not only divisiveness but anti-democratic rhetoric. Lee’s voting record and support of Trump as he tried to overturn the 2020 election show a pattern of divisive, partisan behavior that poorly represents Utah and the Utah way.

An Independent Challenger

This election, Utah voters have an alternative in McMullin. What McMullin has stated about his beliefs helps demonstrate where he sits in the middle of the partisan divide. He’s voiced that he would’ve backed at least one of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch, as well as Biden’s nomination of Kentaji Brown Jackson. He has some conservative values, like a belief in cutting government spending and protecting police funding. And alternatively, he’s stated that he would likely support bipartisan bills on infrastructure and gun safety.

While we don’t have a long political record to review, McMullin continues to make it clear that he is dedicated to cross-partisan goals and willing to consider what both sides advocate for, unlike Mike Lee.

One July poll of registered Utah voters showed that 41% planned to vote for Lee and 36% for McMullin. Despite still polling behind Lee, McMullin’s candidacy is creating the most competitive Utah Senate race in 30 years. Still, Burbank explained that for McMullin to win, he will need to earn Democratic, Independent and some Republican votes, because Mike Lee will likely still garner a large part of Utah’s Republican majority. The competitive nature of this race highlights the importance of voting this November.

Go to the Polls!

For many Utah Democrats, Evan McMullin doesn’t align with all our values or make the best ally. For many Utah conservatives, he isn’t perfect either. However, Utah voters can’t wait for the ideal candidate to arrive because that candidate simply doesn’t exist. Evan McMullin could represent all of Utah rather than just one party or type of voter, and this Senate race will decide whether Utah continues on a path of partisanship and division, or seeks to rise above it.

Part of what I love about Utah is how our representatives prioritize compassion and cooperation over partisanship. A candidate who embodies those qualities should represent those values nationally. This November, I hope you’ll prioritize having your voice and the voice of Utah heard, and when I vote, I’ll be casting my vote for Evan McMullin and the “Utah way.”


[email protected]