Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles the Deseret News is publishing on the candidates running for the 2nd Congressional District.

Secluded in her dad’s home office, a 12-year-old Becky Edwards combed through one essay after another. The pocket-sized autobiographies were written by her dad’s students, brought home for grading. But for Edwards, they were windows into lives different than her own. 

“(I was) fascinated with people’s experiences and their life stories and the hardships that they had,” Edwards said in an interview with the Deseret News. “It gave me an awareness that people in our communities, in our families, in our churches really have tremendous responsibility and an ability to make an impact in people’s lives.”

The next realization — that without a listening ear most problems go unsolved — is why Edwards has focused on community service, leading to her current bid to replace Rep. Chris Stewart in the 2nd Congressional District. 

Presenting herself as a “pragmatic conservative” who tries to bring together diverse groups to get things done, Edwards hopes to tap the district’s more moderate Republican voters to boost her over the other two names atop the primary ballot: GOP convention winner and former Stewart staffer Celeste Maloy, and entrepreneur-turned-party-insider Bruce Hough

Of the three candidates, Edwards likely has the highest name recognition, having served 10 years as a state lawmaker and running last year to try to unseat U.S. Sen. Mike Lee. But her message of bringing bipartisan compromise back to Congress may fall on deaf ears as some Republicans point to her vote for President Joe Biden in 2020, as well her views on topics like abortion, as evidence that she lacks conservative credentials. 

Edwards insists that she is just as willing to listen to her critics as she is her supporters, with a goal of understanding their concerns before developing solutions to problems that affect everyone.

“I’m not afraid of conflict because I know in many cases you’re going to learn a lot when someone says, ‘You’ve got that wrong,’” Edwards said. “I love hearing that. Tell me how we can do it better.”

Becky Edwards talks to Kendall Thomas at an informal meet and greet at Porter Way Park in Stansbury Park on Thursday, July 20, 2023. Edwards is one of the candidates running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Stewart. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Born and raised for public service 

Born and raised in college towns, Edwards was constantly exposed to new ideas and given opportunities to debate them.

When she was born, Edwards’ family was living in Manhattan, Kansas, where her father was pursuing a Ph.D. in child development at Kansas State. As part of his studies, Edwards’ father helped write the curriculum for Head Start, a federal program created to provide early childhood education to low-income children. 

A few years later, they relocated to Provo, Utah, where Edwards’ father was a professor at Brigham Young University’s department of child development and family relations and her mother later taught home economics at Provo High School.

Long before Edwards was admitted to BYU, where she took one of her dad’s notoriously difficult classes, she had already shown a knack for listening — and persuading.

“She had this unique ability to quickly understand both sides of the argument,” said Kelly Arnold, a close friend of Edwards and her debate partner their junior year of high school.

As part of the debate team, Edwards and Arnold studied current issues and practiced defending different positions.

The key to Edwards’ success as a debater, Arnold said, was that “she listens more than she talks” — a skill that, according to Arnold, led Edwards to enter a dual masters program in social work and marriage and family therapy at BYU.

“She had a desire always to understand why people were either thinking the way that they were, or behaving the way they were or reacting so that she could help them,” Arnold said.

It was during these busy academic years that Edwards, then Becky Price, began a relationship with John Edwards, the son of legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards. LaVell would later become one of Edwards’ biggest supporters as she decided to enter the political arena.

After graduating from BYU, Edwards worked two jobs while her husband finished a medical degree at the University of Utah. She utilized her degree in social work as a trauma coordinator at LDS Hospital, helping victims of accidents, assault and abuse to communicate with their families and receive proper care and also worked as a private family therapist across the street.

“I think those things shaped my understanding of the human experience and a lot of the real difficulties that are out there that a lot of people face,” Edwards said of her first jobs out of college.

When John finished school, the two moved to Davis County where John found work as an orthopedic surgeon and Edwards chose to hit pause on her professional career to become a full-time homemaker.

The Edwards’ family now includes four adult children and 11 grandchildren — with one more on the way.

Edwards was also involved in dozens of community volunteer organizations, including as a state and county delegate for the Davis County Republican Party, before deciding to run for the Utah House of Representatives.

Becky Edwards answers interview questions at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. Edwards is a Republican primary candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Stewart. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

From Utah homemaker to changemaker in the Utah House

In 2008, Edwards was elected to represent Utah House District 20, which covered North Salt Lake and the western parts of Woods Cross and Bountiful. Having entered political office from the stand point of 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, Edwards had a sense of why some might feel disengaged from local politics and was determined to do things differently.

Soon after beginning her first term, Edwards began opening up her living room to constituents. “Bagels with Becky,” where a handful, to several dozen, district 20 residents would pile into the Edwards’ home to ask questions became a Saturday-morning tradition.

“One of the things that characterizes Becky is that she cares about outreach to her constituents and she works hard to be in touch with them,” said Raymond Ward, who participated with Edwards in joint town halls after he was elected to represent Bountiful in 2014.

The intrusion of politics into the Edwards’ home was a blessing with lasting impacts, said Edwards’ youngest daughter, Jayne, who was 14 when she was asked to spend the better part of a summer helping her mom campaign for her first election.

“I am who I am today and where I am today because of my mom and all that she is, not in spite of her political career but because of it,” Jayne said. 

Jayne graduated last year from law school and now works in New York City as a housing attorney representing tenants who face eviction. Memories of her mom turning concerns into action, whether it be in church callings, PTA meetings or elected office, are a constant motivation for Jayne and have helped to elevate her ambitions to the highest levels of nonprofit and government work.

“It’s hard to have Becky Edwards as a mom and not want to make a difference in your community,” Jayne said. 

During her time in the Utah House, Edwards chaired the Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Services, and was co-chair of numerous groups, including the Clean Air Caucus, where she saw one of her most notable projects become law.

Edwards was the chief sponsor of HCR7, which made Utah the first Republican-led state to officially recognize the impact of human activity on the climate and stated the government’s role in encouraging individuals and organizations to reduce emissions.

Edwards also supported efforts to expand the state housing tax credit, increase funding for public education and require paid family leave.

Edwards calls this “commonsense conservatism,” but while she was recognized as a “Business Champion” by the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, she consistently had among the lowest scores for a Republican on conservative and libertarian legislative scorecards.

But while Edwards says she believes in the government’s ability to assist those who lack the capacity, family or community to thrive on their own, she says she holds firm conservative convictions about the limitations of the public sector.

“I think it’s obvious that government is never the solution to everything. And it certainly isn’t probably the first place we should look either,” she said.

But when it’s clear that government should get involved, policy must always be informed by its impacts on real people and their unique situations, Edwards said, recalling a time when her church service in the Salt Lake County Oxbow Jail allowed her to influence legislative discussions about justice reform to more accurately reflect the boots-on-the-ground reality.

“It just puts a human face on it and it was gratifying to see what we were able to accomplish when we brought geography, gender, and political viewpoints together and really worked to govern and get things done,” she said.

Edwards left office on Dec. 31, 2018, after serving five terms and reaching her self-imposed term limit.

The following year, she and her husband left on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to American Samoa, where she was the area mental health adviser.

Edwards said her mission provided her with a unique outside perspective on American politics.

“Watching the divisive dialogue around politics just increase in a really destructive way, I thought we can do better. We need to do better,” she said. 

Becky Edwards talks with Stansbury Park resident Amy Stewart at an informal meet and greet at Porter Way Park in Stansbury Park on Thursday, July 20, 2023. Edwards is one of the candidates running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Stewart. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

What does Edwards hope to accomplish as a member of Congress?

So, in May 2021, five months after returning from her mission, Edwards decided to mount a primary challenge against Sen. Mike Lee, who she saw as a politician not willing to overcome partisan pressures.

Though Edwards’ campaign broke state records for the number of individual donors, and the number of votes received by a woman in a statewide primary race, she received less than 30% of the total Republican primary vote. 

But Edwards’ unsuccessful Senate campaign set her up for a quick response to Congressman Stewart’s resignation. In what feels like almost a continuation of her last campaign, Edwards says her latest bid for Congress has been a “series of short sprints.”

Edwards was the first to declare her candidacy in the race and became the first to gather the 7,000 signatures needed to qualify for the primary after her elimination at the Utah GOP’s special nominating convention.

David Warner, a Salt Lake County delegate who voted for Edwards at the convention, said her track record of working across the aisle to solve problems helped her earn his vote.

“We don’t need enemies in Congress, we need people who will work with one another, we need states people,” he said.

Edwards says that by using her leadership and coalition-building skills she will be able to address the issues that unite the 2nd Congressional District. The issues that would be top of mind if elected would be financial responsibility, immigration, jobs and the economy, and resource management, which includes water infrastructure and public lands management, Edwards said.

When asked what she would do to address the nation’s debt, Edwards said she would demand that federal agencies make drastic cuts and improve efficiency, just like she did as a state lawmaker during the great recession. She added that Congress can’t keep waiting for crisis situations, like approaching the debt ceiling, to cut spending, and that the real solutions have to come “upstream” during budget talks.

On the question of Ukraine, Edwards said showing strength against Russia and in support of our allies is key for national security.

“However, we want to make sure that this doesn’t turn into a longstanding, years long, Afghanistan situation. We need to have some accountability, some plan of ‘when do we know we’ve finished?’” Edwards said.

Becky Edwards poses at an informal meet and greet at Porter Way Park in Stansbury Park on Thursday, July 20, 2023. Edwards is one of the candidates running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Stewart. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Finish line in sight as controversy remains

Years spent in Utah’s political spotlight has brought added scrutiny of Edwards’ congressional bid.

During the 2020 presidential race, while she was on her mission, Edwards joined Women of Faith Speak Up and Speak Out to urge Republicans not to vote for Trump, and she chose to vote for Biden. Edwards said at a debate prior to the nominating convention that she regretted issuing statements in support of Biden and she later told the Deseret News she thinks the president has given in to the partisan extremes of his party.

Edwards has also received criticism from conservatives for suggesting the Supreme Court should not have revisited Roe v. Wade and for encouraging Democrats to register as Republicans to be able to participate in GOP primaries.

Republican state legislator Raymond Ward described Edwards as “a mainline Republican” and noted that while her primary opponents claim to be conservative, they have no voting record to support them, unlike Edwards. 

“I think if you look at Becky’s record it’s a solid Republican record,” he said. 

Edwards points to her volunteer signature-gathering success and fundraising as proof that she has grassroots support across the district.

At the end of the second quarter, Edwards had raised the most money of any of the candidates, $307,500, including a $100,000 loan to her own campaign. Hough raised $262,000, including a $203,000 loan, and Maloy raised $72,500. 

Though the Utah Debate Commission will not hold a debate prior to the Sept. 5 primary election, the Utah Republican Party has said it is open to hosting one, an opportunity Edwards said she is looking forward to.

“I’m a 30 year resident in this district who has a legacy of service, a commitment to this state, and a love of our way of life and the Utah way of doing things, and a commitment to help Americans grow and thrive and prosper,” Edwards said.