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Opinion: I endorse Sen. Mike Lee — Evan McMullin’s strategy could lose Utah power

Evan McMullin, independent challenger to incumbent Mike Lee for the U.S. Senate seat, has stated he would not caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected. How would he give Utah a voice on congressional committees?

SHARE Opinion: I endorse Sen. Mike Lee — Evan McMullin’s strategy could lose Utah power
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks after winning the Republican primary race during a gathering in South Jordan.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. Lee is running against independent challenger Evan McMullin for Utah’s U.S. Senate seat.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

I am grateful for U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin’s years of public service. And, I applaud anyone who runs for office; McMullin is no exception.

After running for president in 2016, he now is taking on Sen. Mike Lee as an independent. Unfortunately, McMullin made a disqualifying choice in his pursuit of keeping a Democrat off the ballot by proclaiming and reiterating that he would not caucus with either party. This decision would effectively make McMullin a political tourist, with no guaranteed access to a committee assignment.

Such a move would be a step back for Utah.

The first order of business for an incoming Congress is setting new party leadership. While the Senate currently consists of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two independents, the two Independents caucus with the Democrats and support (as does the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris) Chuck Schumer as Senate majority leader. The Senate majority leader and the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi set the agenda for each chamber, giving them enormous power over the path our country takes.  

For even the most centrist conservatives, McMullin’s choice to not caucus makes him unacceptable — particularly this year in a closely divided Senate.

Although the overreaches and failures of Sen. Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and the Biden administration have created a favorable election environment for Republicans, the Senate map is stacked against them. Republicans must defend 21 of the 35 seats up this November, and Republicans have compounded their problems by choosing weak and/or problematic candidates in several key states. The bottom line is that FiveThirtyEight calls control of the 2022 U.S. Senate a “toss-up.” 

Thus, your vote for Utah’s senate seat goes far beyond Lee vs. McMullin, as it may well decide whether Schumer remains in charge of the Senate.

Your vote could therefore set the course of which party will dictate the nomination path of future Supreme Court justices and other judicial nominees and whether Republicans will have the lead in creating responsible measures to combat inflation, establish more reasonable tax policy and resolve countless other policies.

McMullin’s pledge of neutrality should alarm independents as well.

Congress does most of its work in committees. Committees allow for specialization, deliberation and amendment in a more streamlined and detailed way. They are where a bulk of legislative bipartisanship is executed. Committees bring together natural coalitions of bipartisan legislators to solve problems and work out agreements. Committees may also subpoena evidence, call witnesses, examine government officials and, in the U.S. Senate, vet nominees. 

Committee assignments therefore greatly impact a legislator’s ability to solve problems, be productive and deliver for his or her home state. The party caucuses control the selection of committee seats, which are then approved by the legislative body. Without a committee assignment, a legislator may not exert influence in a critical part of the legislative process nor earn seniority toward powerful chairmanships.  

In fact, dismissal from committees is a strong disciplinary measure employed against legislators. See the cases of Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene in the House of Representatives for examples.

Simply put, those legislators who are not allowed to participate in caucuses may not have seats on committees and are consigned to being spectating legislators. If elected to the U.S. Senate, McMullin would be the only one from either party who may not be in the room where it happens.

Utah cannot afford that sacrifice. 

Lee, on the other hand, sits on the Joint Economic; Judiciary, Energy and Natural Resource; and Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees. These committee assignments give him the essential platform to fight for Utah families. Moreover, he is leading with creative solutions on everything from the baby formula crisis and the child tax credit to immigration and criminal sentencing reform to combatting surging inflation and growing government.

Finally, Lee is a good man. I first met Mike in 1997 when we served as law clerks to Judge Dee Benson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, and our families have remained close ever since. We do not agree on every subject, but he is unfailingly respectful and intellectually curious of differing views. He is an indefatigably hard worker and a man of integrity. 

I am honored to support Sen. Lee for reelection in November.

Kirk Jowers is the former director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.