The four Republicans vying to replace Rob Bishop in Congress took part in a debate on Tuesday afternoon that was woefully short on specifics, but long on rhetoric, with a spat over pickleball thrown in for good measure.
Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson, former State Rep. and Utah Agriculture Commissioner Kerry Gibson, Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt and businessman Blake Moore discussed several topics ahead of the June 30th primary election.
Witt pushed hard to woo conservative voters during the hour-long contest, throwing out heaping portions of red meat for right-wing Utahns, declaring herself as “pro-life, pro-gun and pro-Trump.” She also worked in a mention of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a popular conservative boogeyman, saying she decided to run for Congress because she could not believe that someone calling themselves a “socialist” could get elected. For clarity, AOC is a “democratic socialist,” which is not the same thing.
Stevenson and Gibson leaned hard on their experience in government, while Moore touted his private business work and time in the U.S. foreign service.
The sharpest discussion of the debate came during a question about the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether Congress should spend trillions of dollars more on another round of economic stimulus.
Stevenson said Congress “acted too quickly” when they passed the first rounds of financial aid, throwing trillions of dollars at the problem without considering the ramifications.
“Democrats are considering another round of stimulus that will cost another $3 trillion. That type of spending is crazy,” said Stevenson.
Moore suggested the federal government needs to fix a number of problems from the first few rounds of stimulus because they didn’t think long-term about what they were doing.
“Whatever we do, we need to incentivize people to go back to work,” he said. “The Paycheck Protection Program was a good idea, but it wasn’t funded and it didn’t get to the small businesses that need that money.”
Gibson lamented the trillions of dollars of spending without Congress considering what that will do to the ballooning national debt.
“We can’t continue to kick the can down the road. We are going to burden our children in a way that they will never be able to recover. We need to get our budget under control and make good decisions in a sustainable way,” he said.
Witt, who made headlines for attempting to hold a concert in Kaysville that went against public health guidelines from the state, said it was a mistake for the government to make businesses close down in the first place because of the virus.
“It’s time to reopen America,” she said. “We don’t need another phase of stimulus. We need to let people get back to work. You can see it in the angst and stress we’ve gone through,” she said.
For a moment, the debate was knocked off track by a discussion about pickleball. Stevenson challenged Witt’s claim that she has taken “a stronger stance than anybody” about reopening following the coronavirus pandemic.
“A few weeks ago you took a stand about not opening pickleball courts. How can you take a stand about not opening pickleball courts, then try to hold a concert in your city park which is breaking the rules of the state order?” said Stevenson.
Witt, clearly not anticipating the attack from Stevenson, stammered that she was upholding the freedom of assembly with the concert before pivoting hard to praise pickleball and turn the question back on Stevenson’s position with the County Commission.
“I love pickleball. Pickleball is the sport of Kaysville. We were following orders from the County. I wanted to open them, but we went along with what the other mayors wanted to do,” she said.
All four of the candidates lamented the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer but decried the protests that have turned violent in the wake of that killing.
When asked about President Trump’s threat on Monday to send in the U.S. military to quell the unrest, Gibson and Moore disagreed, while Stevenson and Witt said they felt there would be circumstances where federal help would be warranted.
On the issue of the federal budget, all four said they would push for spending cuts without offering any specifics. Witt advocated for a Balanced Budget Amendment while Moore suggested taking a good portion of federal spending and turning it into block grants so states could decide how to spend the money instead of a federal mandate.
The four Republicans on stage were flummoxed by a question about what they would do to bolster cybersecurity to combat rising threats. Instead, they discussed protecting intellectual property from being stolen by China and boosting spending for Hill Air Force Base.
Polling for UtahPolicy.com and KUTV 2News from Y2 Analytics suggests Stevenson is the frontrunner in what promises to be a close primary race. The winner of the GOP contest will take on the winner of the Democratic primary between Jaime Cheek and Darren Perry.