LOGAN — Three of the four hopefuls for northern Utah’s seat in the U.S. House sparred Wednesday in their only debate, touching on immigration, gun control, global warming, development on public lands and more.
Rep. Rob Bishop, the GOP incumbent, seeking his ninth and final term, touted what he says are his conservative credentials in a very red district. “I am the only Republican that’s in this race, I am the only conservative and I’m proud of those two facts,” he said.
Democrat Lee Castillo, a social worker from Layton, sounded a populist message at times. He jabbed at Bishop at one point as too focused on those at the upper end of the socio-economic ladder and criticized the incumbent’s receipt of campaign funds from political action committees tied to the oil and gas sectors.
“I am running to represent the people, not the top 1 percent. They already have a representative in this congressman,” Castillo said.
Eric Eliason of the United Utah Party, who’s largely self-funded his effort, took aim at what he sees as the inability of U.S. lawmakers to get things done as well as Bishop’s campaign funding.
“I am frustrated with politicians in Washington who refuse to do the work and who refuse to tackle the tough issues” he said. Lawmakers “are being funded by the very industries that they are being tasked to cover. Our politicians are bought.”
The theme of campaign funding came up at scattered points, Bishop generally targeted by Eliason and Castillo. Later on in the debate, Bishop rebuffed any suggestion that he’s beholden to donors. The incumbent, from Brigham City, easily has the largest war chest of the candidates in the race, a little less than half of his haul this cycle from PACs.
“I do not sell my votes... I stand for principles,” he said.
The one-hour, wide-ranging debate, sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission, took place at Caine Performance Hall on the campus of Utah State University in Logan. Adam Davis of the Green Party is also running for the 1st District seat, which represents Weber County, northern Davis County and eight other counties in northern and northeastern Utah. But he didn’t garner enough support in polling to secure a place on the debate stage.
All three in the debate voiced support for a pathway to lawful status for undocumented immigrants, at least younger ones brought to the country illegally by their parents, known as “Dreamers.”
Bishop, though, was more conditional, saying first the nation must secure the U.S.-Mexico border, alleviate the “anxiety and anger” the issue causes for many. “That is the first thing and nothing’s going to happen until that happens,” he said.
Eliason and Castillo expressed support for a pathway coupled with more compassionate words toward the undocumented population.
“I believe we should have a path for ‘Dreamers.’ These are my neighbors. These are my friends,” said Eliason, an adjunct Utah State University professor and investment group partner from Logan.
Castillo emphasized the need to treat undocumented immigrants humanely, also calling for change allowing some to work legally in agriculture to help address the need for labor in the sector. “Give them an opportunity to work. They contribute to our society,” Castillo said.
Development on federally owned and other public lands generated strong sentiments.
Eliason used the discussion point to once again bash contributions to Bishop’s campaign from oil and gas interests. He criticized what he said was the incumbent’s inaction on pursuing legislation to protect federal lands from exploitation by energy companies and other interests, wondering aloud at the reason. “Why? Follow the money,” Eliason said.
Bishop blasted federal oversight of public lands, saying that’s a hindrance to economic development efforts in more rural sections of Utah, where the feds own much of the territory. The feds move too slowly in allowing economic development initiatives, recreation and otherwise.
“We have to recognize that there is an economic opportunity there,” said Bishop, long a proponent of reducing the reach and power of the federal government.
Castillo called for a focus on green energy development in Utah’s more rural counties, where growth is much more sluggish than along the Wasatch Front. “There’s so much more than drilling that these communities can do,” he said.
On guns, Bishop suggested empowering state and local governmental entities to implement the pertinent rules and policies, limiting the influence of the federal government.
“That is the wisest way of doing something rather than having something imposed by Congress on every area of this country,” he said.
On gun violence in schools, Eliason expressed support for placing “trained personnel” in schools “who are ready to handle those issues there on the spot.” He called for a closer look at the legal age requirement to buy assault rifles and improvements in how background checks are carried out on gun buyers.
Castillo said the 1st District needs a lawmaker who “cherishes” the 2nd Amendment “but also cherishes life and students and people in our community.” He favors a ban on bump stocks.
All three said they believe global warming is a reality. “Yeah, there is climate change going on,” Bishop said.