Utah's 2nd District Congressional debate showed that Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, Democratic challenger Nick Mitchell and Constitutional challenger Cassie Easley share some ideas on issues like water and government spending, but widely differ on topics like abortion and immigration.

The debate, moderated by KSL's Boyd Matheson, included questions posed by current students at Southern Utah University. Stewart said Friday night that many people feel the world has been turned on its head between inflation, the conflict in Ukraine and a myriad of other issues.

"We're being led by people who can't even identify what a woman is," he said. "Conservative leadership is essential to save our nation. That's what I represent."

Mitchell said he's running for Congress to protect the people and to do what's right. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitchell said he has "the audacity" to believe that people can have three meals a day, education, culture, freedom, love and dignity.

"I have the audacity to believe that the people of Utah will pick a person, not a party," he added.

And Easley said she's simply a regular person who's tired of watching the infighting between parties.

"We are supposed to be a government of the people," Easley said. "I'm really hoping by standing on the Constitution, that people will see that choosing the Constitution over a political party will get them what they need to be represented in the federal government."

Economy and government spending

Matheson opened the evening by asking the candidates what the government's role should be in lifting economic burdens.

Stewart's answer was that the current "disastrous economic situation" is the fault of President Joe Biden and members of his administration like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, though many other countries have also dealt with inflation since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone is feeling the effects of inflation, he said, and "it didn't have to be this way."

Easley said people need to get back to work and the government needs to stop spending tax dollars on things that prohibit people from working, such as regulations. However, she didn't specify which regulations she was referring to.

Mitchell said farmers are growing plenty of produce but their profit margins are shrinking due to middlemen who buy from the farms and then sell to grocery stores in order to profit off of inflation.

"We're not in a truly free market," Mitchell said, adding that he believes the solution is invoking antitrust laws so small businesses can "have their fair share."

Stewart countered that inflation was created by the federal government spending $10 trillion in two years, which Easley agreed with.

Later, in answer to a question about reducing the country's $31 trillion debt, Mitchell and Stewart agreed that government spending must be reduced, though Mitchell said he believes "we should loosen our purse strings a little" when it comes to issues like veterans health care.

Stewart said, as a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, he's long advocated for reasonable programs that would reduce spending over time. He argued that Republicans did a "remarkable" job between 2015 and 2017 reducing spending, and his party understands how important this issue is.

Easley added that Congress must be held accountable for its spending.

"We need to just say, 'We've had enough, quit spending our money, balance the budget,'" she said.

Environment

Both Stewart and Easley said they think the Colorado River Compact should stand the way it is, but Mitchell said he believes it's only a good starting point. Mitchell also said people need to shift their mindsets about water because if the Colorado River runs dry, the entire Southwest will become unlivable.

Regarding rare mineral mining, Mitchell said he supports safe and ecologically friendly mining that occurs off of federal lands sacred to Native Americans. But Stewart said he believes Utah should mine on federal lands, though "probably not Bears Ears."

Easley said she's unsure what the state legislature has in mind for mining but thinks the federal government should have no say.

Jan. 6

In what was possibly the only truly tense moment of the night, Mitchell called Stewart out for not certifying the 2020 presidential election.

"On Jan. 6, we had an opportunity to do the right thing, the truthful thing, and he chose not to certify the election," Mitchell said. "I think that speaks to a lot about truth."

Mitchell's comment came in response to Stewart claiming that the greatest threat facing the country is that no one knows what's true anymore. When the Department of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and political leaders tell lies, it breaks faith in basic institutions, he said.

Stewart added that Mitchell's "accusation" is "essentially treason," and that he accepted Biden as president in 2020. The only reason he didn't certify the election results, Stewart asserted, is because Pennsylvania "clearly violated the Constitution. ... (and) we should encourage states to obey the Constitution."

Easley commented earlier that "I really have a problem trusting the government to follow the Constitution the way it was written. ... (Politicians) are just saying what people want to hear and they're not really taking any action."

Abortion

Stewart and Easley both spoke strongly in favor of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The abortion issue should be left to each "sovereign state," Easley said, while Stewart added that it's "absolutely possible" to balance differing opinions and beliefs within Utah.

But Mitchell said he wants everyone to know that he is "for women being able to make that choice." He said he believes that the issue hasn't really been given back to the states; rather, "a handful of legislators made the decision for the people."

Easley clarified that she's personally against abortion but supports women having choices.

"You should choose not to have sex because it does cause pregnancy or use protection," she said. "The choices need to come before there's another life involved."

Immigrants and refugees

Easley said she believes lawful immigration is "very beneficial" to the country, but she has a problem with people from all over the world entering illegally at the southern border.

"We don't know... what damage they can do when they get here," she said.

Regarding immigrants, she said states can be welcoming but immigrants should be focused on becoming citizens.

"Maybe they should stay somewhere else if they don't want to become citizens," she continued.

Mitchell said border security is necessary, but so is immigration reform. Right now, the process favors people with degrees; but skills like construction and car maintenance are just as valuable, he argued. Additionally, refugees should be treated with compassion, he added, which he said is something that's "missing in Washington."

Stewart, meanwhile, said while the immigration process should be sped up and become less expensive, and DACA children should be protected, the border must first be secured. He called the situation at the southern border a "catastrophe" that was "deliberately created" by the Biden administration.

As for refugees, Stewart said the U.S. has a responsibility to help those who are suffering.

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"I'm so grateful to come from a state that is welcoming to these refugees," he said. "We look forward to giving opportunities to those that come here."

Ukraine

Stewart said he's proud of what the country has done for Ukraine, but added that he believes the U.S. needs clearly defined goals in order to avoid another situation like Afghanistan. Easley, on the other hand, said if the U.S. keeps "throwing money" at Ukraine, it will burden taxpayers with something that doesn't benefit them.

Mitchell said Ukraine needs technology provided by the U.S. He added that the country should continue sending aid "until the job is done."

"We are Americans and we don't quit halfway through," he said. "We finish what we start."

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