Talk about odd political encounters.
When Jon Christensen, a student at the University of Utah, was given a class assignment to interview a legislator, he chose Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, who is his representative in the 14th House District.
The irony is Christensen, a Democrat, is running against Oda this November for that same house seat. It is Christensen’s first bid for public office, while Oda is seeking a fifth consecutive term.
“It was an interesting opportunity. I thought he would say ‘no,’ ” Christensen said of the meeting.
A former Marine, Oda said Why not? “I have nothing to hide,” he said. He met Christensen and his father and took them to lunch.
The newly redrawn district expands to cover part of Syracuse as well as Clearfield. Half of the district is new, according to Oda.
Oda has served in the House since 2005 and currently chairs two committees. He lists three reasons he is running again: Someone needs to protect the state from over-growth, he wants to be proactive in protecting personal liberties and he supports fiscal restraint and accountability by all state agencies and divisions.
“My top priorities have always been a frugal and balanced budget, public safety, personal liberties, education of our children and disaster emergency readiness,” Oda said.
Christensen, 26, said he has five priorities in making a bid for a House seat. They are representing his constituents, improving working conditions for teachers, supporting collective bargaining, supporting veterans and doing what he can to support the future of Hill Air Force Base.
He suggests Oda and some of the establishment lawmakers need to yield to a younger generation.
“He’s been in there eight years. Instead of old people who have been there a decade, who have connections and biases, it should be more and more a position that is allocated to a younger generation,” Christensen said.
The two differ politically on a number of issues, from a state challenge for control of federal lands within the state to whether politicians should take donations from any outside groups.
The Democrat also criticized Oda and other legislators who voted in 2011 to restrict access to public records (HB 477) — a measure which was later repealed.
Oda said local control of federal lands would do more than ease Utah’s issues in financing education. He said it would help fund highways, allow the state to utilize lands for recreation and controlled commercial development and would be a key to eliminating the state income tax.
He counters the argument that the federal government contributes $30 million to Utah coffers every year because of the land issue with the possibility the state would generate as much as $3 billion in revenue if it controlled the property.
Oda, 59, agrees the state needs to spend more on education. He notes Utah ranks low on spending per pupil, but said the state spends more per household on education than any other state in the U.S.
“Obviously, we do need to fund more. There’s no question. Our teachers need raises,” Oda said.
Christensen wonders why lawmakers would pick a fight with the federal government over the land issue when, he says, they are destined to lose.
“They ought to be working out a land trade. This lawsuit, unless I am very much mistaken, is going to be a failure and an expensive one,” he said.
An advocate of the public’s right to bear arms, Oda has been active in a number of civic ventures. He currently serves on the Military Affairs Committee, and is a member of the National Rifle Association and the Utah Shooting Sports Advisory Committee.
He is past president of the Independent Insurance Agents Association of Utah. He served seven years on the Clearfield City Council and also served as a member of the governor’s 2010 Education Excellence Commission.
The father of three children, Oda currently works as a commercial property/casualty insurance agent with Heiners Insurance Center in Ogden
Christensen works a part-time job in Salt Lake City and attends the U of U. His education includes music, photography and film, with a primary study of political science and an emphasis on international relations and German. He has been active in volunteer efforts in behalf of the Utah Food Bank, Best Friends Animal Shelter and several other charities.
In 2008, the Syracuse man, his brother and several friends started a non-profit corporation to facilitate the networking and promotion of local artists’ work so they would have more time to spend on their craft. The organization still exists, but is directed by the Utah Arts Alliance.
He attended Clearfield High School before graduating from a charter school.
District 14 boundaries have been expanded west to include a portion of Syracuse as well as most of Clearfield.