Memorial Day was the official start of the summer election season. The stormy weather we experienced last week reflected current turbulent politics. We highlight some of the issues.

Much has been written about Utah Democrats declining to nominate a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate at their state convention and instead backing independent Evan McMullin. A recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll indicated 36% of Utahns agreed with this decision, 44% did not and 21% did not know. Further, 50% of Democrats agreed and 36% did not. What does this indicate about the race and the Democratic Party?

Pignanelli: “In every free and deliberating society, there must be opposite parties, and one of these … must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time.” — Thomas Jefferson    

I am on a quest. When encountering a Democrat or left-leaning independent expressing support for McMullin, I ask for a reason other than he is not Mike Lee. The dozens of responses to date are devoid of any substance.

The decision to support McMullin does not match the fundamental purposes of a political party to promote candidates who support certain ideologies and policies. The common justification made by some Democrat leaders is their party cannot win the election and must work with Republicans and independents to elect a candidate that is “moderate and mainstream.”

Is the Utah Democratic Party dead? What the vote to support Evan McMullin means for its future

This strategy raises many questions. Will moderate Democrats in future conventions receive similar absolutions and blessings from liberals as granted McMullin? What about Republicans that satisfy this threshold with a history of bipartisanship dealings (i.e. Gov. Spencer Cox, Sen. Mitt Romney, multiple legislators, etc.)? Is this a disguised acknowledgment the left-wing progressive policies of national Democrats are unpalatable to Utah voters?

The poll emphasizes a plurality of Utahns, including many Democrats, are suspicious of the alliance approach. This signals the McMullin coalition is weak and unlikely to succeed.

I will continue my search for that elusive rationale. Finding the Holy Grail or Montezuma’s gold may be easier.

Webb: The Democrat-McMullin embrace means most Democrats concede they can’t win a statewide race, so they hold their noses and endorse a candidate who, to them, is a little less noxious than Lee.

This is a nice test case to see if an independent candidate can win in Utah. It might provide valuable intelligence in case some other moderate politician wants to run against a conservative Republican in the future. Might this be a new route to win office?

However, it must be remembered that Democrats gave McMullin a nice boost by clearing the decks for him. McMullin won’t have to split the liberal/moderate vote with a pesky Democrat. Thus, any future moderate pursuing the independent route would also have to replicate McMullin’s success in keeping a Democrat off the ballot. So why have a Democratic Party?

It is probably all moot, anyway, because Lee will likely win handily.

Does a lower approval rating make Utah Sen. Mike Lee vulnerable in the 2022 election?

The Utah Debate Commission was scheduled to conduct a number of primary election debates earlier this week, but most Republican candidates declined to participate. Instead, most will appear in GOP-sponsored debates where Republican leaders control questions and moderators. What does this mean for the primary election and the future of debates?

Pignanelli: Because Republicans dominate Utah politics, the primaries are the de facto general elections. Thus, the philosophy for candidates to engage in debates remains sound. However, the commission was established for general elections, not primaries. Intraparty contests have different dynamics, and the respective political parties should have greater influence in how these activities are conducted. 

Thus, until the commission is restructured accordingly, the GOP is likely to conduct its own primary debates. All of which will have little impact on the outcome.

Opinion: The Utah GOP hurts the voter when it tries to control debates

Webb: The GOP is free to hold its own debates, of course, and party leaders have a point that primary elections are intraparty affairs. Incumbent Republicans may not want to take questions from moderate or liberal moderators. They prefer throwing red meat out to the party faithful to ensure a primary win.

Still, they will certainly face tough questions from liberals and moderates in the general election, so why not get in some practice? These folks are all capable politicians and good debaters. They ought to have enough confidence to debate anytime, anywhere.  

Will the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, impact political discourse and prompt legislation?

Pignanelli: The current tenor of the responses is different. Because the November midterm elections — and control of Congress — will depend upon suburban voters, there is a greater likelihood of bipartisan actions.

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Webb: I hope this act of unspeakable horror will prompt action on many levels: A recommitment to family, love and support for each other. Better mental health support and intervention. All of us watching for unstable people and reporting concerns. Hardened schools and better law enforcement training. Sensible red flag laws and strengthened background checks, making background checks practical, quick and convenient. More attention and action regarding the daily and weekly acts of violence across the country, which vastly outnumber the “mass casualty” shootings. 

Violence is a symptom of a breakdown of societal values and mores. Hearts must be changed, and government doesn’t do so well at changing hearts. Government can try to deal with the consequences of societal breakdown, but it can’t solve the fundamental causes. That is the responsibility and prerogative of parents, extended families, teachers and religious institutions.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant.

Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah State Legislature. Email:

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