David R. Irvine: Mike Lee is a poor fit for our pretty great state

Our senator claims to believe in the Constitution but does nothing to defend our democracy.

(Senate Television via AP) In this image from video, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks as the Senate reconvenes after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Bountiful is a reliably red political sea, but my neighbors are not extremists. For the past 50 years, Bountiful’s state legislators have mostly been Republican moderates, to the frustration of our vocal far-right activists who were trounced in this year’s primaries. Our mayors and city councils have been consistently wise and reasonable. It’s a great place to live.

The “Bountiful Bubble” is 80% Latter-day Saint which, in my East Bench voting precinct in 2016, gave Donald Trump only 45% of the general election vote. Evan McMullin drew 33% and all the other candidates drew 22%. Trump’s Utah showing was the poorest of all the red states.

While it’s more of a stretch to vote Democratic, 55% of my neighbors preferred a non-Trump candidate. Most of my neighbors share a religious conviction that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired, “for the rights and protection of all [people] according to just and holy principles.” That’s not just for “some” people.” It’s a universal standard.

I get two strident emails every day from our senior senator warning me that his opponent is a bad person who cannot be trusted — a fake conservative and “a Democratic puppet.” In contrast, Lee says his commitment has always been to “the Constitution and principles of limited government.”

There is no greater right of a free people than the right to vote, and Mike Lee knows this. If he were truly the Constitutionalist he vociferously proclaims himself to be, he would not have been “working 14 hours a day” trying to cook up electoral objections, according to his January 4, 2021, texts to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

“I’ve been calling state legislators for hours today and I am going to spend hours doing the same tomorrow. I’m trying to figure out a path I can persuasively defend…We need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate… Even if they can’t convene, it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they will vote.”

Lee had been working with Trump lawyers Sydney Powell and then closely with John Eastman to promote Eastman’s cockamamie constitutional theory about “independent state legislatures having sole authority to regulate federal elections, to include authority to set aside election results and certify alternate electors.”

Two days later, a Trump-directed mob violently attacked the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of the Electoral College vote. It is to Lee’s credit that at the last minute he backed away from Eastman and Trump and voted to certify the 2020 presidential election. His oath required that.

However, as the poet Maya Angelou wrote, “When someone shows you who he is, believe him the first time.”

Although Mike Lee shares Utah’s dominant religious faith and its belief in an inspired Constitution, he has little use for universal suffrage. On October 8, 2020, Lee tweeted, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

Some people just are not wise enough to vote? Others prefer to vote for Democratic Party candidates? Others are just looking for a government handout, or – horrors – an end to partisan gerrymandering and unlimited dark money in political campaigns? Yikes!

None of the fundraising messages I receive from Lee have anything to say about the necessity for making it impossible for any political party or presidential candidate to hijack the electoral vote process.

This fall, Congress will consider a package of reforms to the Electoral Count Act of 1887. That would seem to be an important “conservative” issue for anyone who cares about preserving the Republic (which, as Lee would remind us, is what we really are). When Doug Wright moderates the Lee-McMullin debate on October 17, both candidates should be pushed for specific responses.

What Evan McMullin should be doing between now and that debate is making it clear that the debacle of January 6 and all the maneuvering that the Trumpers and Lee engaged in to keep Trump in the White House, after America fired him, can never again be permitted to occur. If McMullin feels he needs lawyerly Republican conservative back-up, he only needs to quote retired federal Judge J. Michael Luttig, who so eloquently (June 16, 2022) made the case against Mike Lee’s and his patron president’s maneuverings to subvert a free and fair national election.

Judge Luttig succinctly pulled the rug from under Lee’s anti-democracy obfuscation: “Those who think that because America is a republic, theft and corruption of our national elections are not theft and corruption of our democracy are sorely mistaken. America is both a republic and a representative democracy, and therefore a sustained attack on our national elections is a fortiori an attack on our democracy.”

Evan McMullin is a good man, a good Republican, and every inch a tested patriot.

David Irvine is a Salt Lake City attorney and one of the drafters of the legislative ethics initiative.

David Irvine is an attorney and former four-term Republican legislator from Bountiful.