Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the nation and it isn’t just because we tend to have a lot of kids. In a trend that has only accelerated because of the pandemic, people from around the nation are moving to Utah to take advantage of our strong economy, outdoor recreation, and so much more. And if you haven’t noticed it already, our state is changing. More than ever, we have diverse voices with distinct needs and different perspectives.
Of course, growth comes with growing pains. But as we’ve been presented with new challenges, Utahns have viewed it as an opportunity to reaffirm our values and grow ourselves. We are facing an affordable housing shortage by implementing new policies that enable us to keep our families together and strengthen our communities. We are emphasizing our compassion and commitment to inclusivity by welcoming immigrants, providing for refugees, and coming together on historic LGBTQ+ protections. We are working together to clean our air and preserve our scenic landscapes, knowing that we must be good stewards of our environment not only for our own enjoyment but for that of future generations.
We expect our leaders to share these same values. But earlier this week, a newly-elected member of the Salt Lake County Council showed all of us just how out-of-touch he is with who we are and what we want to become. On his personal Facebook page, Councilman Dave Alvord attacked “the left” with an alt-right fever dream description of the “equity movement,” making hyperbolic claims based in misunderstandings, illogical fallacies, and discrimination.
Faced with immediate and strong disapproval on social media and in the press, Councilman Alvord changed the privacy setting on the post to “private,” rather than delete it, and then issued an apology only “for any who misunderstood [his] intentions.” It seems that Councilman Alvord is completely unrepentant and has no plans to step down from office, despite calls to do so.
Salt Lake County has the largest population in our state. It’s full of people with diverse backgrounds who hold a wide variety of different perspectives and ideologies. Government officials must strive to be inclusive, not just during official meetings, but in all aspects of public life so we can maintain trust in our system of government. To write off the very real needs for affordable housing or equality for marginalized groups as unreasonable demands of a supposed leftist agenda is callous and offensive. Like I said before, we should expect more of those elected to represent us.
In her response to Councilman Alvord’s post, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson showed us an example of what leadership looks like, acknowledging the biases and inequities faced by many of her constituents and embracing the values of diversity and inclusion. She pledged to continue working with the county government to “promote dialogue and collaboration” in an effort to achieve a more inclusive community for all those who live there.
As Utah continues to grow and expand, we need leaders who will listen to and learn from folks who have different life experiences, leaders who promote collaboration that will bridge divides in an effort to achieve a better future for all those who live here. It’s okay and expected for politicians to pursue policies and outcomes based on their ideologies and beliefs but it is not okay for elected officials such as Councilman Alvrod to speak or act in ways that are harmful to the people they represent and only serve to divide and marginalize. There’s a better way—dare I say it, the Utah way—and as voters, we need to demand it from those who represent us.