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In our opinion: Utah’s politics aren’t an aberration. They’re a model for the nation

Those who designate Utah a sleepy state in election years should wake up to its increasingly unique influence

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Chris Peterson, rivals to become Utah’s next governor, bump elbows after facing each other in a prime-time debate in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.
Trent Nelson

Those who designate Utah a sleepy state in election years should wake up to its increasingly unique influence in the country.

As rules for decorum shrivel across the nation, Utah’s candidates for governor have a fresh message for the nation: We can debate ideas without denigrating each other.

Republican Spencer Cox and Democrat Chris Peterson released two PSA videos on Twitter assuring voters they had respect for one another even while pushing different solutions.

“We can disagree without hating each other,” Cox says, followed by Peterson summing up, “Win or lose, in Utah we work together.”

How elementary. And how terribly needed in 2020.

Those following Utah’s race for governor know the candidates are true to their word. They engaged on substantive issues during debates, unafraid to attack ideas but never with a word of contempt for the character of the other.

Even as polls show Cox holding a sizable lead over his opponent, the singularity of the videos shouldn’t be lost: Two political foes appearing together on screen, urging the electorate to commit to the ideals that maintain democratic institutions.

In taking aim at attempts to discredit election results, the two promise they are “committed to American civility and a peaceful transition of power,” and that “Utah can be an example to the nation” in supporting the outcome of Nov. 3.

They are right. Scholars at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University argued in Foreign Affairs last week that this election may be the most secure in history. States seem to have taken seriously the deficiencies of the 2016 election and have spent four years shoring up the pitfalls.

Even with scrambling efforts to vote safely amid COVID-19, there’s nothing to suggest the institutions that have weathered more than 230 years of dramatic history won’t fail now. The republic demands a level of trust from its citizenry in order to function.

That’s not the message coming from others.

Instead, concerns over voter safety led Republicans to question the merits of voting by mail, suggesting mail-in ballots favor Democrats. President Donald Trump has implied Election Day will end in chaos and hasn’t yet committed to accepting the outcome.

Again, Utah stands alone. It is among a handful of states, and the most conservative of the lot, that have been using mail-in ballots for years and can speak to their success.

In recent years, the Beehive State has stood out for its Republican governor asking to accept more refugees, for its conservative legislature crafting legislation for LGBT rights and religious liberty, or for its attractive economy and budget surplus.

Maybe the country sees Utah as an aberration, a happy accident that can’t be replicated. Or maybe Utah has found a formula for civility and prosperity that actually works.

Take note, America.