Dear Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s GOP boss wants to meet with you on critical race theory

Party chair Carson Jorgensen is trying to set up a meeting with the NBA star

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah GOP chairman Carson Jorgensen says he would like to meet with Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell about the push to ban critical race theory in Utah's schools.

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State GOP Chairman Carson Jorgensen wants to have a meeting with Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell.

The topic? Teaching critical race theory in Utah schools.

Mitchell recently said in an interview that he’d like to sit down with state lawmakers to discuss the subject.

“I would love to talk with him,” Jorgensen said. “I’ve reached out to a few people to see if that can happen.”

Mitchell is no newcomer to advocating for social justice issues. Last year, he wore a bulletproof vest covered in the names of people killed by police during the NBA’s COVID-19 bubble in Orlando.

Jorgensen, a sheep rancher by trade who was elected Utah GOP chairman in May, says his perspective on race and racism is decidedly different than Mitchell’s, which would make any conversation deeper and more meaningful for both of them, especially when discussing the nation’s troubled past with racial issues.

“I have three children in public schools in Utah,” Jorgensen said. “Critical race theory is the wrong thing to be teaching them.”

At the core of Jorgensen’s opposition to such a curriculum is the push for equity in education. He sees that as fundamentally un-American.

“Our country was not founded on equity. Equality is what we should strive for,” Jorgensen said. “Equity is guaranteeing an outcome and relies on the redistribution of resources to get to that outcome. Equality is an equal starting position for everyone.”

Critical race theory works from the point of view that the history of the country is deeply linked to racism, which has led to policies and laws that perpetuate systemic racism. Advocates say addressing equity is critical to helping disadvantaged students overcome barriers in education.

The controversy surrounding critical race theory, which is not taught in the state’s schools, erupted in May when the Utah House and Senate passed separate nonbinding resolutions urging the state school board to adopt rules about how race and racism are addressed in classrooms. Heeding that warning, the board did just that.

Lawmakers seem satisfied with the board’s actions and do not plan to address the topic again until the 2022 Legislature, which gets underway in January.

But the controversy is not over. Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, says he will bring legislation next year to ban the teaching of “divisive topics” in Utah’s K-12 classrooms, and possibly the state’s colleges and universities.

Jorgensen questions the wisdom of Christiansen’s approach, saying that banning “divisive topics” in classrooms is overly broad, and he worries it could be unenforceable.

“Broad and vague is not always a good idea. You’re opening the door to people who might say the Holocaust or slavery is too divisive and should be banned,” Jorgensen said. “Who is to determine what is divisive? Broad topics make for dangerous situations.”

The Utah Republican Party’s governing body approved a resolution in June that puts the party on record rejecting critical race theory as “un-American.” It further calls on the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Spencer Cox to pass and sign into law a ban on teaching of the concept in Utah schools “prior to the next school year.”

Lawmakers are taking the summer off and won’t meet again until August.

The notion of athletes being involved in politics can be a hot-button issue. Most famously, Fox News host Laura Ingraham told NBA star LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” after he criticized former President Donald Trump.

Jorgensen says he doesn’t think that kind of rhetoric is helpful, as Mitchell and other professional athletes have the right to get involved in politics. But there’s a worry that Mitchell’s celebrity will give him access other people won’t have.

“Just because you play basketball doesn’t mean you can’t have a political opinion,” Jorgensen said. “But you shouldn’t have more sway than the regular person.”