Important developments in politics and society can be discerned not just from statements and actions of officials and the electorate, but also by what is unspoken. We have recently witnessed important examples of this phenomenon.

On multiple days, full page ads in Utah’s daily newspapers featured a large “#Black Lives Matter” logo, sponsored by at least 300 prominent businesses, other entities and individuals. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that employers may not discriminate based on an individual’s sexual orientation and transgender status. Other than some minor grumbling regarding the constitutional basis of the court decision, the response was crickets from most Utah politicos regarding these major societal changes. Why the silence?

Pignanelli: “Change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn”— John Steinbeck  

The corporate public embrace of Black Lives Matter and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination against LGBTQ citizens was met with the most powerful of reactions among Utahns … a shrug. This quiet show of acceptance indicates a substantial undercurrent of support for these endeavors.

This quiet evolution has major ramifications for elections this year and forward. Candidates will be adjudged — in both parties — on sentiments of sexual orientation nondiscrimination. Furthermore, as was reflected in the recent gubernatorial debate, a sensitivity to the challenges African Americans face is now a prerequisite. Technology is a substantial reason for these shifts. The 1960s civil rights movements gained traction with the televised attack on protesters. The homicide of George Floyd, captured by iPhone video, touched billions. Entertainment and social media stirred similar passions of fairness towards the LBGTQ community.

2020 is a tough year so far, but it will be remembered when Utahns heartily approved major transformations with respectful serenity.

Webb: To be fair, most Utah politicians have issued carefully-worded statements decrying racism and police brutality in response to the deaths of black citizens and the resulting protests and riots. Most politicians also embrace new attitudes on sexual orientation. However, these issues have clearly not had the robust debate common for such monumental matters.

Most politicians and writers (me included) are still trying to figure out how to discuss these issues. It’s easy to say the wrong thing, even when well-intended, and be accused of racism.

Change has occurred at whiplash speed, and most of us old white guys are standing around with our mouths hanging open trying to interpret what it all means. We obviously didn’t fully understand the deep, festering wounds and anger over racism that exploded into protests and riots.

In very short order, police department policies are being reformed. Legislation is being passed in Congress and in every state. Statues are coming down, popular consumer products are being discontinued or changing names. Buildings are being renamed. Some action is symbolic, some is substantive.

Most of these developments are very positive. But debate on these matters shouldn’t be stifled for fear of being labeled a racist. Going too far with police restrictions could be dangerous. Defunding the police would be insane, and sometimes force is necessary. Minority communities will be disproportionately victimized if crime skyrockets. We can’t drive good officers from the profession. We need robust discussion.

The daily number of coronavirus infections continues to be almost double the level of a month ago. Again, few responses. Does Utah need to step back into more restrictions that were in place in late March?

Pignanelli: The numbers are troublesome. COVID-19 cases have been increasing daily for weeks, with a higher positivity rate.

Even more aggravating is the silence surrounding other numbers. The hospitalization and mortality rates have been fairly consistent, 7% and 1% respectively, for months (94.2% of deaths were at “high-risk”). But these statistics must not be ignored when considering the damage to our economy and society.

They suggest that we can move to the least restrictive category, while mandating face masks in appropriate circumstances and safe interaction with higher risk individuals.

Webb: We’re not going back. We’re going to tolerate a certain level of infections, hospitalizations and deaths so that the economy can rebound. But we absolutely need to observe good health protocols and we old folks who are in the high-risk categories need to hunker down and take extra precautions. I’ll poke my head up when we have a good vaccine.

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Mail-in balloting has emerged as a major controversy for elections primaries in states across the country. But little is being said in Utah. Why is that, and will any problems occur in the June 30 primary?

Pignanelli: Another great example of the “Utah Way” is how we process democracy. Over 90% of Utahns mail ballots through a system that had some rough starts but is now fairly smooth. Because of the pandemic, ballots will be quarantined, then counted by staff enduring social distancing. Results will be valid, just late in coming.

Webb: Utah has shown that voting by mail is safe and that it increases voter participation — which is good. The reason it’s not controversial here is because Utah is a Republican-dominated state, so if a few more Democrats vote than would otherwise be the case, it’s no big deal. But if Utah was a swing state where a handful of votes could mean a Democratic win, Republicans wouldn’t be so cheerful about mail-in voting.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email:

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