SALT LAKE CITY — All four GOP candidates vying to hold the 1st Congressional District seat tout their experience as the reason to secure a primary victory in June and most stand on the same principles: reducing the budget deficit, protecting constitutional freedoms and thwarting the threat posed by China.
Kerry Gibson, Blake Moore, Bob Stevenson and Katie Witt participated in an hourlong debate hosted by the Utah Debate Commission and livestreamed on Facebook and Zoom on Tuesday.
They hope to take the seat held by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who is not seeking reelection and instead is running as a lieutenant governor on the GOP ticket with gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright.
All four condemned the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police that has sparked multiple riots across the county, but disavowed the violence and destruction of private property.
Witt, the Kaysville mayor, invoked President Donald Trump’s name frequently and said she supports federal military intervention if necessary, as the president threatened.
“When it comes to antifa, if state governments are not taking care of that problem, I support President Trump in taking a stance. I believe they are a terrorist organization and they should be dealt with as such.”
Moore said the civil unrest in this country demonstrates the urgent need for change.
“We need to stop the anarchy that is happening in our cities,” he said, adding there is a need for criminal justice reform, but the best response is a local response.
Gibson, too, said he is opposed to federal intervention.
“Not in my America. We don’t need the military in Salt Lake City. We have the resources to handle this in the state of Utah.”
Stevenson said responses to riots are best handled by local police — and Davis County, where he serves as commissioner — sent dozens of officers to Salt Lake City to assist police there. The National Guard, under state purview, is also appropriate to use as a resource, he said.
All candidates hammered on China as the biggest foreign threat to the United States.
Moore, a former foreign service officer who worked in intelligence in Asia, said his experience from that makes him uniquely qualified to navigate that territory.
But Witt jumped on his statements about building relationships.
“What he is advocating is the same old same old,” Witt said, stressing it hasn’t worked.
Gibson, a dairy farmer and former state legislator, said COVID-19 exposed the threat from China and shed much needed light on the insecurity of the nation’s food supply.
“For far too long the nation has taken domestic food production for granted, and that needs to change,” he said.
Stevenson said the proposed fourth stage of COVID-19 relief spending for Americans should be dead on arrival because it is too exorbitant and full of pork.
“This type of spending is crazy,” he said.
All candidates jumped on the federal deficit, saying it is a spending path that needs severe correction.
Moore said that is one of the main reasons he got into the race. “We need to reverse the debt culture,” he said.
Stevenson pointed to his record of cutting taxes twice while mayor of Layton, while Gibson emphasized his experience in the Utah Legislature during the Great Recession when legislators had to make significant budget cuts.
“We went through it line by line,” he said. “I was in the room at the table making sure our budget came into line with our new reality.”
Witt said cutting federal regulations, as Trump has, will help businesses flourish and provide more revenue to bolster the economy.
“We need to stop spending so much money,” she said, adding to do that, “Federal government needs to stay in its own lane.”
Witt has taken criticism for agreeing to host a country-western business-stay-open-themed concert in her city, which has since been booted elsewhere.
She said in the debate that the government shutdowns were too extreme.
“I think it was a mistake in retrospect to force everybody to close down. We need to let people earn a living.”
Stevenson, however, asked why she was supportive of keeping pickleball recreation shuttered but not a concert. Witt responded she agreed to concur with other Davis County mayors’ sentiments.
The debate now sets the stage for the June 30 primary.