Republican Rep. John Curtis and Democratic challenger Glenn Wright engaged in a low-key debate Thursday where they shared some common ground but made it clear that they would represent Utah’s 3rd Congressional District from different points of view.

The country is at a fork in the road, Wright said. It can go down one fork, he said, where veterans aren’t protected, where older people have to pay high drug prices, where climate change isn’t addressed aggressively and where women’s health, welfare and personal freedom is jeopardized.

“Or we can go down the other path, which I will be happy to lead people down,” Wright said.

Having a GOP majority in Congress would be a “very bad thing” for the nation, he said.

Curtis said Republicans bring to the table an agenda for a strong economy, a safe country, a nation that “doesn’t give us free things, it gives us freedom” and accountability to government.

If reelected, the incumbent congressman said he would pursue those four issues and represent the district in a way that “you will feel represented and that I’m listening.”

Noting the two impeachments, the Jan. 6 riot and the COVID-19 pandemic, Curtis said the country has faced difficult times in its history but always emerges better.

“I can tell you that there are hundreds of my colleagues on both sides, the right and the left, who wake up in the morning and say ‘I want to do what’s best for this country,’” he said.

Wright and Curtis covered a wide range of topics, including abortion, in the hourlong debate put on by the Utah Debate Commission at Brigham Young University.

Wright is a Summit County Council member and former Summit County Democratic Party chairman. He lost two previous elections for the Utah House. Curtis, a former Provo mayor, is seeking his third full term in the U.S. House

A Lighthouse Research & Development poll conducted for the Utah Debate Commission in September found Curtis leading Wright 51% to 27%. None of the other three candidates in the race received more than 6%, and failed to meet the commission’s threshold to qualify for the debate.

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Here is how Wright and Curtis responded on some of the topics covered in the debate:

Limits on abortion

“I think viability is a very reasonable place where you can put restrictions on abortion,” Wright said.

The Dobbs decision was an “egregious error,” he said. “I think it has allowed states with very reactionary legislatures like our own to put incredible disabilities on women who are in a pregnant state and want to terminate for whatever reason or who just have health problems,” he said.

Wright said he has talked to doctors who dread the possibility that they have to worry about the legal implications of treating a woman who comes into the emergency room.

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Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, speaks in the 3rd Congressional District debate at the KBYU Broadcasting building in Provo on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Curtis said he is “unapologetically pro-life.” The Supreme Court, he said, ruled that there is no right to an abortion in the Constitution, which then pushed the issue to the states.

“I get it. If you’re a woman, it stinks” that most of these legislators are men and most of these decisions are made by men, Curtis said. “I wish it were other than that. I wish as a man I didn’t have to make this decision. I wish women could make this decision.”

State legislatures, he said, must thoughtfully decide what they want to do.

Transgender girls sports

The Utah Legislature passed a law this year banning transgender girls from competing in girls high school sports. A judge has temporarily blocked the law from taking effect.

Curtis said it’s about fairness.

“We have to be fair to these young women,” he said, adding he has four daughters. “I do not want a man competing with them in sports. Period. Under any circumstances.”

Curtis said if it’s more complicated than that, he’s happy to sit down and talk about it, “but I don’t see where there’s a place for that.”

Wright said the Legislature didn’t need to get involved in the issue. The Utah High School Activities Association has rules governing that, though they might need to be “tweaked a little bit here and there.”

“I think the really bad part of that bill is that it came from a segment of our society that is afraid of the LGBTQ community,” he said. “They found transgender folks as the latest whipping person.”

Student loan forgiveness

Curtis called President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel some student loan debt “wrong on many, many levels.” Students, he said, signed contracts to repay their loans and forgiving the debt teaches them contracts don’t mean anything. He said while his son was in medical school he turned off the water heater to save money.

“And now you imagine how he feels right now when other people’s debt is forgiven,” the congressman said.

Wright said the student loan forgiveness program is a “good thing.” Interest on college loans is too high, he said, adding he knows of people who graduated with $25,000 in debt that is now up to $80,000.

Glenn Wright speaks in the 3rd Congressional District debate at the KBYU Broadcasting building in Provo on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Federal pardons for marijuana offenses

Wright called Biden pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession and encouraging states to do the same an “excellent idea.”

“I think marijuana use amongst adults is a victimless crime and it also feeds the drug cartels,” he said. He said he knows a person who has been pulled over three times while “driving while brown” and the last time police found a “seed” in a coffee cup holder and arrested her. It cost her $2,000 to get it reversed because it was “totally not valid.”

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Curtis disagreed that marijuana use is a victimless crime. In Colorado, where recreational and medicinal cannabis is legal, traffic accidents and crime is worse than in other states.

“And it can be directly tied to the legalization of marijuana,” he said.

The president’s pardon is an “end run” around Congress, Curtis said, adding that’s “never a good thing.”

The candidates agreed that marijuana should be removed from the Schedule 1 drug list reserved for substances that the government deems as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and Glenn Wright speak in the 3rd Congressional District debate at the KBYU Broadcasting building in Provo on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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