Kelly Atkinson and Ross Anderson are trying to draw differences between them in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic race.
With little money to spend on radio or TV advertisements, the two are counting on "free" media - articles like the one you're reading - and a couple of debates a week.But reaching the estimated 600,000 people who live in the district, which stretches from Central City in Salt Lake City to Draper and West Jordan, isn't easy.
Atkinson clearly wants to turn the Democratic primary on June 25 into a contest of who can best win in November. "Electability is what this is about," Atkinson likes to say.
He believes Anderson, an attorney, is too liberal and has taken stands against the death penalty and for allowing same-sex marriages that are rejected by the vast majority of 2nd District voters. If clear-thinking Democrats realize that, they'd pick Atkinson because only he has a chance to win, Atkinson believes.
Atkinson, who lives in West Jordan, says his hometown is key to the 2nd District - no Democrat wins eastside Republican areas, and any Democrat can win in Salt Lake City. "I've studied (voting patterns in past 2nd District elections) and know who wins West Jordan wins the 2nd District," says Atkinson.
Anderson, meanwhile, is looking to a core of Democratic voters for his support. Many of these people believe, finally, they have someone they can not only vote for but alsofeel good about in doing so.
He's thumped Atkinson, a school-employee labor leader and 10-year legislator, for his vote in favor of the first bill aimed at banning gay and lesbian student clubs. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Mike Leavitt, and Atkinson voted against its replacement in April's special legislative session.
Anderson pushes aside Atkinson's attempts at labeling him, saying independent-minded voters will accept him for his ethical stands, and that the death penalty, same-sex marriages and other "minor" issues don't influence voters.
He says he's a fiscal conservative who will get the nation's fiscal house in order, thus allowing the federal government to help those who can't help themselves. Anderson says 15 percent of federal tax money today goes toward interest on the debt, more money than is spent on federal budgets for education, commerce, national parks, the arts, the environment or many other programs.
Anderson says he's frustrated that he can't get Atkinson to commit on some issues. "He'll never say whether he's for or against light rail (in Salt Lake County). He just says he's for mass transit. Who isn't?"
Atkinson, meanwhile, believes he's the leader in the race. He did come out with more delegate votes than Anderson in the state convention, but he couldn't reach 60 percent, the level needed to win the nomination without a primary election. And Atkinson has some big-name endorsements - Wayne Owens, Karen Shepherd, Norma Matheson.
Atkinson doesn't like to mention Anderson by name, referring to him as "my Democratic challenger." For this story, Atkinson declined to ask Anderson any questions.
The winner of the Atkinson-Anderson primary will face Todd Neilson or Merrill Cook, whichever wins the Republican primary, in November.
U.S. Congress - 2nd District - Democrat
What is the main issue facing the 2nd District?
Quality of life. Tremendous growth has raised questions about crime, transportation, protecting the environment and adequate housing. In Congress I'd work to see federal resources necessary to address these issues are made available to Utah.
Federal fiscal policy (how our government taxes, spends and borrows). It greatly impacts our nation's productivity, our wages and the quality of life, now and for our children. Our government should balance its budget with the same pay-as-we-go accountability that we practice at home and in our businesses.
Why should primary voters pick you instead of your party opponent?
I've won five elections in the southwest end of the (Salt Lake) valley - a key region in the 2nd District. I have 10 years experience in the Utah House and a long-standing commitment to Democratic values like protecting the environment, helping working families, protecting seniors and ensuring a quality education for our children. I can win the general election.
I'm the candidate for all independent-minded citizens who are fed up with partisan politics and career politicians who sell their votes to campaign contributors. As a citizen candidate, I have the consistent record of advocacy for social and economic justice and conservation of wilderness and other public lands. I'd beat the Republican nominee.
In the next two years would you ever vote for a tax increase? If so, which tax and for what purpose?
I won't make a pledge on taxes now without having all the information available to a member of Congress. I'll make no "read my lips" pledges. My legislative record shows I'm fiscally conservative and voted for tax cuts only when such cuts were in the best interest of citizens and helped spur the economy.
To get our fiscal house in order I favor higher tobacco and alcohol taxes (to go for public health education, health research and medical care) and a $20,000 cap on luxury- and vacation-home mortgage-interest deductions (with the added federal revenue from that going to pay off the accumulated debt).
What taxes, if any, do you want to cut over the next two years and why?
I'd like to see the federal income tax system simplified and support expansion of the earned-income and child-care tax credits.
I favor cutting the capital-gains tax if, indeed, it would encourage investment, enhance productivity and provide greater total revenue. I'm also in favor of tax incentives for saving, especially for education.
Do you favor light-rail mass transit in Salt Lake County? Under what conditions would you support it?
I strongly favor mass transit in the valley. Air quality and our ability to move around are impacted by inadequate mass transit, and we must remedy this quickly. I'll support a mass-transit system that quickly, efficiently moves people and is financed with help from the federal government.
I support light rail, so long as the federal government would contribute 80 percent of the cost and there would be no tax increase. An urban mass-transit system like light rail, which can accelerate and decelerate quickly at several stops, is badly needed in the Salt Lake Valley.
Briefly say whether you favor constitutional amendments for a balanced budget, banning flag desecration or restricting abortion. Do you favor laws allowing same-sex marriages, the federal death penalty, the Brady gun-control bill, and declaring tobacco a drug so it can be regulated by the FDA?
I don't support a balanced-budget amendment. It's a political gimmick. For the last four years we've been decreasing our dependency on borrowed money. We must continue that trend until we balance the budget in 2002. I oppose a flag-desecration amendment. I oppose an anti-abortion amendment. I oppose legalization of same-sex marriages. I support the death penalty in certain reprehensible cases. I favor crime control, not gun control. We need an aggressive gun-safety education program, especially for the young. I favor tougher regulation of tobacco by placing it under FDA jurisdiction.
I favor a balanced-budget amendment so long as there's something like a three-fifth vote (to allow deficit spending) for extraordinary circumstances. I oppose a flag-desecration amendment. As abhorrent as flag-burning may be, it is symbolic expression. I oppose an anti-abortion amendment. We should stop dividing our country over this issue and dedicate ourselves to prevent conditions that lead to unwanted pregnancies. The federal government shouldn't deal with same-sex marriages; leave that to the states. I have a personal moral objection to killing, other than in self-defense, but don't expect my personal views will have any impact on federal legislation. I won't vote to repeal the Brady bill; we should study its effectiveness. I favor declaring tobacco a drug and public health education aimed at eliminating smoking in this country.
Anderson's questions for Atkinson:
Do you favor a ban on semiautomatic assault-type weapons? Would you have voted for the initial ban? Would you vote to repeal the ban?
I would not have supported the ban because it does not accomplish the objective of reducing the availability of assault weapons in our community. Under the ban over 50 types of assault weapons were not addressed, and semiautomatic weapons can legally be converted into fully automatic weapons. Gun control doesn't create crime control. I'd focus on gun-safety education and stronger laws making gun owners responsible for their weapons.
Do you favor federal funding for abortion. If so, under what circumstances?
Federal funding for abortion is appropriate in cases of rape, incest, or health and life of the mother when she, in consultation with her physician, family and spiritual adviser, determines it to be the most appropriate course of action.
Atkinson had no questions he wanted Anderson to answer.