1st District U.S. House GOP debate

The four Republican hopefuls in Utah's 1st District U.S. House race met in a debate on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission. From left to right, they are Kerry Gibson, Blake Moore, Bob Stevenson and Katie Witt. The debate was held on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The four Republican hopefuls for Northern Utah’s U.S. House seat debated Thursday, making the case for why they should be selected by voters.

Kerry Gibson, a former member of the Utah House and Weber County Commission, called himself a “proven conservative” and cited his government experience. “Times change but our values don’t have to. Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” he said.

Bob Stevenson cited his service as Layton mayor and city council member and, currently, as Davis County commissioner. He also emphasized his civic involvement with Hill Air Force Base and other entities. “You have to have that attitude of integrity and honesty,” he said, and be “willing to listen and learn.”

Katie Witt, the mayor of Kaysville, put the focus on her conservative outlook, saying concern with the election of Democratic New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spurred her bid. “I am pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump but mostly I’m pro-you,” she said on two occasions during the debate.

Blake Moore, a management consultant from Salt Lake City, cited his mix of experience in U.S. foreign service and in business.

The four face off in the June 30 primary, and whoever wins should have the inside track to victory in the November general election. The 1st District, now served by GOPer Rep. Rob Bishop, who isn’t seeking re-election to the post, leans Republican, with Bishop, the incumbent, having won by wide margins in each of his nine elections. Democrats Darren Parry and Jamie Cheek face off in their own primary on June 30 and will face the GOP winner on Nov. 3.

The debate, sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission and held on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, focused on some of the hottest issues of the moment — ongoing protests over George Floyd’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and government spending. Parry and Cheek met in their own debate on Monday.

The four Republicans all expressed dismay at the violence and destruction that has accompanied some of the protesting stemming from Floyd’s death last week at the hands of Minneapolis police. But President Donald Trump’s threats to deploy National Guard forces in states that don’t take the steps he thinks are necessary to safeguard against overzealous protesters garnered a mixed response.

“Not in my America. We don’t need the military of the United States of America in Salt Lake City, Utah,” Gibson said, touting it as an issue of federalism, proper division of powers between the feds and states. “We have the resources to handle this within the state of Utah. We don’t need the federal government coming in and telling us exactly how to do these things.”

Moore offered a similar response.

“Not in our country. Not in our state,” he said, also citing worries of overt federalism. “Our response to these situations is best done at the local level where we know exactly what is going on.”

Witt said Utah forces have been able to handle things here, but that Trump’s calls could make sense elsewhere.

Citing concerns about militant opponents of right-wing ideology, generically dubbed “Antifa,” she said “if state governments are not taking care of that problem, I support President Trump in taking a proactive stance.” Antifa, she went on, is a “terrorist organization and they need to be dealt with as such.”

Stevenson said there could be times when a state needs outside assistance and, under such circumstances, should accept federal aid. He spoke, though, in terms of a situation when a state seeks out help. If forces within a state don’t have the ability to manage a certain situation “we have to bring in the help to help them,” he said.

The four gave mixed reviews to the $2 trillion CARES Act, the federal bailout plan to help address joblessness and the economic slowdown brought on by restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

Moore said the plan is motivating some to accept the heightened unemployment benefits it created, at least temporarily, and avoid seeking out employment. “We need to make sure that we have smart decision-makers that are thoughtful about what negative externalities can come out of these types of policies right away and address that,” he said.

Stevenson said congressional Democrats are contemplating another $3 trillion plan, which prompted his scorn. “That is not what we need. That type of spending is crazy... That is poor, poor, poor judgement on the elected people,” he said.

Witt used the occasion to criticize health guidelines dating to March in Utah to scale back public activity in the fight against COVID-19, which led to the economic slowdown. Another bailout plan isn’t needed.

“I feel very strongly that we need to trust individuals to make good decisions for themselves and their families. We don’t need a fourth phase. We need to let people get back to work. I think that it was a mistake in retrospect to force everybody to close down,” she said. “It is time to reopen America.”

Gibson said the situation, the specter of spending huge sums of money to shore up the economy, underscores the import of balancing the U.S. budget.

“The crisis is that we are woefully unprepared from a fiscal perspective. The fact of the matter is that we cannot continue on our course of unsustainable financial spending in Washington, D.C.,” Gibson said. He worries continued spending and increasing the deficit will burden future generations “in a way that they will never be able to recover.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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