Before the White House texts, Mike Lee’s voting record failed Utahns, Robert Gehrke says

Gun Rights

During the course of Sen. Mike Lee’s re-election bid, a lot has been made of his role in promoting election fraud conspiracists like Sidney Powell John Eastman, the mastermind of the illegal and anti-democratic “alternate electors” theory.

So much so, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that well before Lee’s text messages to the White House, he’d piled up a long voting record that put him on the fringes of a polarized U.S. Senate and, I believe, well outside of the mainstream of Utah voters.

His rigid ideological purity has led him to consistently vote against the interests of average Americans — working men and women, small business people, first responders and military veterans.

It is, no doubt, one of the things Lee’s supporters who voted for him in the Republican convention adore about him. But now, as voters statewide decide whether he deserves another term, it’s worth looking back at a handful of the low points in the senator’s last 12 years.

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In March 2020, as COVID was starting to spread across the country, Lee was one of just eight senators who voted against legislation that established paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing and expanded food and unemployment benefits — programs that helped many impacted families weather the pandemic.

That December, he was one of just six senators who voted against a bill that provided COVID relief payments and created the Paycheck Protection loans that provided assistance to more than 84,000 Utah businesses fighting to survive the pandemic.

Health care

On health care, Lee has consistently sided against consumers’ interests. In 2018, he was one of two senators who voted against a bill that would have prohibited insurance companies from misleading patients about the costs of prescription drugs. Last month, he introduced a bill to eliminate controls on drug pricing, controls that had just been passed in the Inflation Reduction Act.

That same year, Lee was the only senator voting against the opioid crisis response bill, passed in 2018, which provided federal assistance to treatment and recovery centers across the country.

He also voted that same year against an amendment that would have directed the military’s health insurance program to cover autism spectrum disorders for service members’ families.

Disaster relief

In 2013, Lee was among a small group of senators who voted against federal disaster relief for those impacted after Hurricane Sandy hit the Atlantic coast. Four years later, he joined 16 GOP senators to vote against relief for those who were affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. He missed a vote last week on a bill to provide Florida with relief after Hurricane Ian struck.

In 2016, Lee single-handedly stalled bipartisan legislation intended to help Flint, Mich., address a public health emergency caused by drinking water poisoned with lead.

Violent crime

In the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas, massacre, Lee joined a group of Republican senators in voting against a modest package of gun reforms — things like strengthening background checks, augmenting school safety, bolstering mental health services and aiding states that have enacted Red Flag laws. All of these reforms have had overwhelming support from mainstream Americans for years.

In 2012, Lee led an effort against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark piece of legislation focused on helping states and tribes investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women and provide support to survivors of the violence. Despite his opposition, the law was extended and earlier this year was again extended for another five years as part of a larger budget bill that Lee also voted against.

Veterans and first responders

Earlier this year, Lee was one of just 11 senators who voted against extending health care to veterans who are suffering from illnesses linked to their exposure to toxic burn pits — giant fires commonly used on bases to burn trash and waste that have been shown to emit an array of dangerous toxins.

“When given the opportunity to help those who [served],” Luciano Martinez, an Army veteran from Murray, wrote recently in The Salt Lake Tribune, “[Lee] was found to be AWOL.”

Lee, in 2019, decided to block a bill that would have extended funding to cover the health care costs of first responders who rushed into the burning buildings on Sept. 11, 2001 and victims of 9/11. That includes the men and women on Utah’s Task Force One who were deployed to the World Trade Center to sift through the rubble, dozens of whom developed serious health problems and more than a quarter of whom suffered some type of cancer.

Eventually, Lee caved and the bill got a vote, where 98 senators voted for it; Lee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul were the only two who voted against it.

So if that’s your thing, vote for Mike Lee.

If you support letting unemployed people suffer and letting small businesses wither during a pandemic; if you side with drug and insurance companies over consumers; if you are willing to leave towns ravaged by opioids to fend for themselves; if you turn your back on communities destroyed by hurricanes; if you’re fine with lead-contaminated drinking water; if you support the NRA over overwhelmingly supported measures to keep kids from being shot to death; if you won’t side with women, including indigenous women, subjected to brutality; if you don’t value the veterans, and their families, who have sacrificed for your freedom; and if you disregard the men and women who churned through the wreckage of 9/11, well, you know who Mike Lee is and that he will give you another six years like the last dozen.

I like to believe Utahns are better.

Indeed, Utahns deserve better and we can do better, but not until we vote better.

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