You would be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn't profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the chaos of the past few years has had a distinct effect on nearly everyone.

For first-time state Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, the pandemic — or more specifically, Utah's response to the pandemic — is what prompted him to launch his campaign for the Utah Legislature.

Lee told he watched his stepdaughter go through school during the pandemic, and was concerned with how Utah handled education and other issues at the time.

"I felt like it was a lot of government overreach into our lives during COVID-19," he said. "A lot of that was pretty upsetting for me. I had a lot of family and friends who lost their jobs, or they were forced out of it. Or people that were forced to do things that they didn't believe, when it came to their bodily autonomy and vaccines. And that stuff really upset me."

Lee said he began to attend committee hearings at the Capitol and tried to get neighbors more involved in the process. He felt his efforts weren't enough, though, and ultimately decided the only way to make a difference was to run for office.

"I really wanted to make sure that the place that I have grown up stays red," he said. "I think Utah's a fantastic place for a reason, and I don't want us to turn into a state like California that's just not responsible or has a lot of problems and issues that are self-imposed. I want to do everything in my power to make sure that my kids can grow up in a place that I felt like was amazing. Let's just keep Utah, Utah."

As one of the first-time Republican lawmakers elected since the state approved new redistricting maps, Lee is emblematic of a new brand of hard-line conservatives in the Utah House of Representatives. Even before his election, Lee made headlines for using a private Twitter account to spread 2020 election conspiracies, share false COVID-19 information and disparage the LGBTQ community.

Although he never apologized for the remarks, the account was taken offline last year and Lee issued a statement on Facebook saying he "had no clue" an anti-transgender slur was "so disparaging," promising not to use the word again.

Rather than being a fake "burner" account, Lee said the account was simply meant to be a private way for him to express his beliefs to his close friends and family. He criticized coverage of his comments, saying the media is intent on stirring up controversy.

"I wasn't trying to hide anything, but when it becomes a distraction ... I don't want that stuff to get in the way of me being an effective legislator. So hence the deletion of the account," he said. "But I don't apologize for things I've said. I don't bear ill will toward anyone and I'm open to good ideas from both sides of the aisle. And the the fact that we live in a world where you're canceled for things that you say, I think is completely wrong."

While Lee said there are some issues he won't budge on, he still welcomes dialogue with his political opponents.

"One thing that we all agree on is we're not bad people, and I don't think the opposite side is bad either," he said. "But I wish there was a better perspective from everyone that we all want the same thing, we all want good things for everyone, which is just to be happy."