‘Gross political corruption’: Evan McMullin calls out Utah’s redistricting during sit-down with the Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board

Evan McMullin, an independent candidate running to unseat Sen. Mike Lee, touched on regulating social media companies, how the federal government should approach abortion policy, and more

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Independent candidate for Utah's U.S. Senate race Evan McMullin in a meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune's Editorial Board in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

Evan McMullin, the presidential-turned-Senate candidate aiming to replace Utah Sen. Mike Lee, is eyeing the possibility of introducing legislation that would end the practice of gerrymandering and supports regulating social media companies, he told The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board on Wednesday.

Seated next to campaign manager Andrew Roberts, who previously worked on former Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams’ campaign, the previously Republican — now independent — McMullin fielded questions on some of Utah’s most pressing issues and opined about America’s political division.

One of the main factors contributing to that division, he said, is social media companies that “make their money by turning Americans against each other.”

While he doesn’t have his own proposal for how Congress might approach the issue, and warned that he is cautious of federal regulation, McMullin explained that federal action is part of the solution.

“Their profit incentive to turn Americans against each other is undeniable and powerful and will not be changed unless there’s some regulatory intervention to change the dynamics in that market,” he said.

Another topic that deserves federal intervention, according to McMullin, is one that has become a flashpoint in Utah in recent months — redistricting.

“I think the recent gerrymander of the state did marginalize most Utahns,” McMullin said. “And I will say that partisan gerrymandering is gross political corruption.”

McMullin told the editorial board that he was “deeply disappointed” in the way the Utah Legislature went about the redistricting process and that the governor signed its maps into law. While he believes states have the right to run elections, he said that it is the federal government’s role to ensure those elections are “free and fair.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Independent candidate for Utah's U.S. Senate race Evan McMullin in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

A Utah judge ruled this week that a lawsuit alleging Utah’s new congressional maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered can go forward while the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a case in the fall on whether North Carolina’s high court had the authority to throw out maps drawn by the state’s general assembly.

If elected, McMullin said he would support federal legislation to end partisan gerrymandering, or may even introduce some himself.

The Senate candidate, who has gained the support of the Utah Democratic Party, takes a similar approach to abortion policy. He believes that states should have a role in shaping their own abortion policy, but that the federal government should step in to prevent states from going to “extremes.”

Among those extremes, he noted, were forcing children who were the victims of rape to carry pregnancies to term, preventing pregnant people from traveling to obtain an abortion and banning contraceptives.

The federal government also has a role to play in getting money to underfunded schools, he said. McMullin, who has described himself as a conservative, also dismissed right-wing claims attacking “critical race theory” in schools, saying people are being misled by “extremist conspiracism” about school curriculum and “it’s creating problems for everyone.”

McMullin addressed criticisms that, because he is an independent who would not caucus with either Democrats or Republicans, he would have limited access to Senate committee assignments. He told the editorial board that a former Senate parliamentarian said he would have committee assignments if elected to Congress.

McMullin has previously worked on the House Foreign Affairs committee as a national security advisor.

He continued, saying his position as an independent would give Utah “one of the most, if not the most, important votes in the chamber.”

“With that will come a tremendous opportunity to work with senators of both parties to get things done,” McMullin said. “That’s what really matters. That’s where influence in the Senate comes from.”

McMullin also responded to questions on how to take on the worsening water shortage and air pollution in Utah. On the federal level, he doesn’t see those issues being handled with regulation, but instead with infrastructure projects.

One of his focuses in the Senate, he said, would be to advocate for Utah to get a better deal in its allowed share of water from the Colorado River and to pursue “significant investments” in water infrastructure.

He said he sees the federal government’s contributing to a solution to the lack of affordable housing in Utah by lifting tariffs on construction supplies from overseas. And McMullin said it needs to reduce inflated gas prices by increasing domestic production of gas over the short term and investing in renewable energy over the long term.

Although he said federal action needs to be taken on a number of Utah’s largest issues, he explained that overall, the federal government needs to reduce its spending to limit further inflation.

Some of the ways McMullin says that should be done is by “avoiding unnecessary wars” and helping Medicare to lower health care costs by enabling it to negotiate prescription prices and other health care reforms.

“We (Utah) have one of the highest, you know, inflation rates in America — almost higher than any other state,” McMullin told the editorial board, when challenged on whether his platform focuses more on national rather than Utah-centric issues. “I mean, these are my priorities because these are issues that are so seriously and negatively impacting Utahns.”

Update • The McMullin campaign later clarified that they’d spoken with with a former U.S. Senate parliamentarian, not the current parliamentarian, about Senate committee assignments.