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Crowded field to duke it out in 1st Congressional District primary

4 GOP contenders, 2 Democrats on the ballot

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Kerry Gibson, Blake Moore, Bob Stephenson, and Katie Witt participate during the 1st Congressional District Republican debate at the PBS Utah studios in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Rick Egan

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s the first time in nearly two decades the seat in the 1st Congressional District has been open, prompting a flurry of candidates seeking to replace the retiring GOP Rep. Rob Bishop, who as the state’s longest-serving member of the delegation said he is not seeking a 10th term.

Voters in the June 30 primary will whittle a field of four GOP candidates to one person who will go onto the general election. There are also two Democrats who are each hoping to survive the primary and land on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Here’s a look at who primary voters get to consider for the 1st District, which covers a huge swath of northern Utah, Summit County and extends into the Uinta Basin.

Republicans

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Former Utah Agriculture Commissioner Kerry Gibson speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican debate at the PBS Utah studios in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Rick Egan

Kerry Gibsonis a dairy farmer who spent six years in the Utah Legislature and served two terms on the Weber County Commission. He most recently was tapped by the governor to serve as the commissioner over the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, but stepped down to run his campaign.

“I do think that experience in this race is very, very important,” Gibson said. “The easy solutions have been found in Washington, D.C. At this point everything left to do is hard ... now is not the time for on-the-job training.”

Gibson said Congress needs to get its fiscal house in order and balance the budget, adding he is the only candidate in the race, who as a state lawmaker, was forced to make tough spending cuts during the Great Recession that hit in 2008.

“I chaired a budget subcommittee and was part of a group of people sitting around a table who had to make the budget work with what revenue we had coming in,” he said. “We found where to cut and it put our state in a much better place. We became much stronger because we trimmed the fat.”

He added the 1st District needs a candidate like him who is a strong supporter of Hill Air Force Base for the role it plays in national security and because it is a huge economic driver for northern Utah and the aerospace industry.

“It is not just the single-largest employer in our state but the ripple effect is unbelievable. If there is anything that touches every single resident in our district in some shape or form, it is Hill Air Force Base. It can’t be neglected; it has to be nurtured and taken care of.”

Gibson says he is also a strong advocate for more local control of public lands, bolstering small-business success and helping rural Utah thrive.

“Last but not least, we need to have a meaningful seat at the table when it comes to the public lands debate. We as a state are tremendously affected by the amount of public land here,” Gibson said, stressing he can bring leadership on the issue because of his experience as a former lawmaker, his life in a rural community and his former role at the state agricultural agency.

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Businessman Blake Moore speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican debate at the PBS Utah studios in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Rick Egan

Blake Moore is an executive with Cicero Group, a management consulting firm, and is a former foreign service officer who worked in intelligence in the United States and abroad in Asia.

This is his first foray in a run for political office, but he believes his public service background and corporate experience make him uniquely qualified to solve the tough challenges in Washington.

Especially given the conflict with China over COVID-19, its control of much of the U.S. supply chain in critical goods and the ongoing controversy over the trade deficit, Moore said Utah needs a political leader who has experience in Asia.

“There is a growing list of issues with China,” he said. “We can’t just talk about what is going wrong, we have to talk about our approach to better our relationship.”

Moore said he is also supportive of reevaluating the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, as President Donald Trump has said he wants to do, and working on ways to coax more overseas manufacturing jobs back to the country.

“The first step is to strengthen ourselves especially when it comes to manufacturing. We can do things ourselves,” he said.

Moore said he grew up in the 1st Congressional District “under the jets,” and the value of Hill Air Force Base cannot be overemphasized.

“You cannot lose sight that the top priority in this district is Hill Air Force Base,” he said. One of the key strategies, he added, is to have “someone ready to serve on the House Armed Services Committee from day one. “

“I get that world,” he added.

His experience in management consulting has led him to help nonprofits, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies thrive in a competitive world, Moore said.

He emphasized that public lands have to be a top priority, since so much of Utah is under the control of federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management.

“This is an area where we can’t get bogged down in rhetoric,” he said. “Energy diversity and recreation has co-existed well in our state to this point and we need to make sure that continues.”

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Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican debate at the PBS Utah studios in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Rick Egan

Bob Stevenson served two terms as the mayor of Layton and said during that time taxes were cut. He is a Davis County commissioner now and serves on the Utah Defense Alliance Board, which works to promote and secure the future of Hill Air Force Base.

In addition, he is chairman of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, was chairman of the interlocal council of governments and co-chairs the Northern Utah Economic Alliance, which works to promote economic development in Weber and Davis counties.

“One of the things you learn at the local level is you learn how to work with people and you learn how to get things done,” he said.

“I think my strength is my past experience,” adding he worked 30 years for a large company, Nestle, and first ran for political office before the age of 30.

“These all bring together a repertoire of experience, reputation and ability.”

Stevenson said he jumped into the race because of his desire to serve and to secure the continuing mission of Hill Air Force Base.

“While there is the military element, it is also the economic engine that spurs so much economic development in northern Utah,” he said. “When you stop and think about it, there are around 26,000 jobs on site and another 3,000 jobs that are contractors tied to the base. And the offshoot of that is close to 30,000 jobs that tie into that.”

He said the successful candidate needs to continue to grow the mission of Hill Air Force Base and support the universities and tech schools to develop the workforce of the future. Additionally, the employment opportunities in rural Utah need to be bolstered through greater access to broadband technology and broadening the market for telecommuting, he said.

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Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt speaks during the 1st Congressional District Republican debate at the PBS Utah studios in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The Kaysville City Council released a letter of censure aimed at Witt.

Rick Egan

Katie Witt has been mayor of Kaysville since 2017 and also served on the City Council while she lived in Longmont, Colorado.

She she was motivated to run for Congress following the congressional election of 2018, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, secured a victory.

“I cannot believe someone can run on socialist principles and get elected to Congress. That is what kicked me in the butt to run.”

Witt describes herself as pro-Trump, pro-gun, pro-life and “pro you” for the voters of the 1st District, and said she is anxious to reopen the country and restore constitutional freedoms.

Witt made newswhen she threw her support behind a rally in her city that called for more businesses to reopen. It was eventually moved to another location after protest from residents and her colleagues on the Kaysville City Council, which recently voted to censure her and ask for her resignation.

The mayor apologized for not keeping the council informed, but said she is not wavering from her initial decision.

“I trust people to make the decisions that are best for them,” she said. “I think I am the only candidate in the race who has shown I will stand up for voters’ First Amendment rights. I am conservative. I have shown that I am not afraid to take a strong stand and stand up for my people and that is what I am going to do in Congress.”

She said she is a strong supporter of Hill Air Force Base, the manufacturing industries and the oil and gas sector in the 1st District.

“These companies are keeping us energy independent, which is a national security issue.”

She’s also an advocate for more local oversight of federal lands.

“I think we will do a better job of maintaining them ... they are right in our backyard and they don’t see it,” she said. “Whatever is good for Utah I will be fighting for.”

Witt added that a distinguishing factor in the race is that she is a Republican woman, and right now there are only 13 GOP women in Congress, a number she said should grow.

“I know that leadership is anxious to have more voices at the table.”

Democrats

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Jamie Cheek speaks during a 1st Congressional District Democratic debate at the PBS Utah studios on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Jamie Cheek, who lives in Ogden, grew up in rural Wyoming in a struggling family that had to rely on food stamps and other assistance.

She became a first-generation college graduate and is now employed as a district director with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation.

“As someone who works in social work, I see directly the ways the laws affect our most vulnerable populations,” she said, adding that she is in favor of universal health care that would force private insurance companies to lower their costs.

“I want everyone to have accessible and affordable health care. Preventative care is shunned in this country ... the sick care system is broken.”

Cheek said the proposal to cut greenhouse gas and other pollution under the Green New Deal needs to be pursued.

“I am willing to have a real conversation,” she said. “We need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions.”

Cheek, 34, said she decided to get into the race after Bishop said he would not seek another term.

“I thought this was a time when we could flip this seat.”

Her campaign is also focused heavily on the protection of public lands, boosting educational opportunities and fighting for the people in the 1st District.

“I think I am willing to have tough conversations and willing to take bold ideas to Washington, D.C., and have the other side listen to us and make real change when it comes to public policy.”

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Darren Parry speaks during a 1st Congressional District Democratic debate at the PBS Utah studios on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Darren Parry is former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and serves on the tribe’s council.

A resident of Providence in Cache County, Parry has worked for years with state government leaders in his role with the tribe and successfully secured $750,000 from the Utah Legislature to help fund an interpretative center at the site of the Bear River Massacre.

“I think with my interaction with the governor and the Legislature I have been able to build partnerships,” he said. “They trust what I am going to do and how I am going to react.”

Parry said he decided to get into the race, even though he doesn’t “fancy” himself as a politician, because of the fractured nature of the country.

“I feel this divisiveness is going to be our demise,” he said. “The hate speech has got to go.”

A big focus of his platform is caring for the environment.

“It kind of stems from who I am as a Native American leader. We always call her Mother Earth. As we continue to take advantage of the environment today, it has become clear we need to take better care of the Earth. If not for us it better be for our children and grandchildren.”

While he said he supports the Green New Deal and its proposal to drastically reduce carbon emissions in theory, Parry said those kind of changes will take time.

“We are not quite there to take on the whole thing, but I would like to get us there one day.”

Public lands in control of the federal government, he added, should stay that way.

“I don’t trust the state of Utah not to sell them off to the highest bidder.”