This is what a political debate should be – intelligent, civil, short answers, policy-driven without personal insults, badgering or talking over one another.
One can only be impressed by Wednesday night’s debate between Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and his Democratic challenger Misty Snow.
Now, it must be said that Snow, a transgender woman who has almost no chance of winning Nov. 8, and Lee could be civil to each other because their race is determined – Lee wins big, up 37 percentage points in the latest UPD/Dan Jones & Associates poll.
And so both could afford to be kind. If Lee were ahead by 2 points in the polls, this debate may have been very different.
Still, I must say – and I’ve watched dozens if not hundreds of debates over the last 35 years, both in person and on TV – I was impressed by both parties, along with the moderator, my old friend Dr. David Magleby from Brigham Young University.
I came into the debate – more discredit to me – not knowing much about Snow. I thought she could be crushed by Lee, well known for being a tough debater, a hard-nosed conservative.
But Snow more than held her own. She had facts at her fingertips, made succinct, well-argued points.
Here were as few highlights for me:
Lee (dare I say in Trumpian fashion) tried to blame the much-disliked-in-Utah 2013 federal government shutdown on President Barack Obama.
He actually said it was Obama’s fault for not agreeing to have two votes on government funding – one vote on the funding of Obamacare, another on all the other federal programs.
For a constitutional scholar, Lee must think we’re dopes to believe such rubbish – Congress (House and Senate) couldn’t decide among itself how to pass funding bills that year.
Lee led the shutdown fight, along with his constitutional buddy, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. And Lee has been downplaying (or rewriting) that history ever since.
In trying to explain the Congressional budget setting, Lee used the rather strange example of going to the only grocery store in your community and trying to buy milk and eggs, only to be told you had to buy nails, tons of steel and other stuff, too. That’s just wrong, he said.
He didn’t mention that his Republican colleagues now own and run the grocery store, set the prices and buying conditions. And they still can’t seem to pass a budget – running continuing spending resolutions.
Snow said Utahns hated the shutdown; the state lost more than $30 million; communities near national parks suffered; and 35,000 federal employees in Utah “struggled” to make financial ends meet.
“It was no way to lead” in the Senate “to shut down the government,” she added.
Snow said she opposes the TPP; Lee said the proposed trade treaty is 5,000 pages long and he’s still studying it, although in general, he likes free trade.
Lee said the Senate refusing to hold hearings on Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination is the Senate acting – doing nothing is in effect denying the appointment — and that’s an appropriate action.
Garland would be a liberal judge and vote with the other four liberal justices to basically ruin America, he added.
Snow said she would hold confirmations hearings on Garland; that Sen. Orrin Hatch praised Garland in a previous appointment; and that Garland is likely the most moderate appointee to come from a Democratic president.
“It is a shame that” with each passing day the Garland nomination keeps “the longest vacancy in Supreme Court history,” she said.
Lee said he has introduced legislation that would ensure no one’s religious rights are discriminated against, while upholding the rights of others, like the LGBT community.
Snow said that just isn’t the case, that Lee’s bill would specifically allow a person or institution to claim religion as a reason to deny rights to others, like the LGBT community.
“My bill would protect Brigham Young University (where the debate was held); that its tax exemption could not be denied on religious belief,” said Lee.
“If you own a business you should treat everyone the same,” said Snow, “not favor one because he is a Christian, or white or straight.”
“I encourage BYU to treat all students equally regardless, it’s a loving, humane, compassionate thing to do,” said Snow.
Snow said she has no problem with people owning assault weapons and supports the 2nd Amendment. But there should be better background checks and a person on the federal terrorist watch list should not be able to buy a gun legally.
Lee agreed with the watch list, adding convicted felons should not be able to buy a gun, either.
Lee has refused to endorse Donald Trump, his party’s presidential nominee.
He said, “Heck no,” when asked by Magleby if Muslims or any other religious group should be denied access to America.
“Never, that would be a religious test,” added Lee, saying he belongs to a religious minority once outlawed by a Missouri governor.
Both Lee and Snow said there should be adequate vetting of immigrants, with Snow saying she trusts the federal government is doing so now.
The debate was sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission and was supposed to be carried live by local TV stations, however several stations (which did carry the gubernatorial debate live) opted to not carry it at all Wednesday night.