Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles looking at the Republican candidates for Utah’s open 3rd Congressional District seat.

Military veteran Stewart Peay has a practical political philosophy he wants to bring to Utah’s crowded 3rd Congressional District race. Lawmakers, just like service members, are there to do a job so important they can’t let partisan obstructionism get in the way of moving the mission forward, he says.

As one of five Republicans to qualify for the June 25 primary election for the open House seat, Peay, who was endorsed by Sen. Mitt Romney last week, is trying to differentiate himself with his stance on Ukraine and his approach to public service.

“The Republican Party in the United States Congress has kind of come to a crossroads,” Peay said in an interview with the Deseret News editorial board on Wednesday. “There’s a chaos caucus,” he said, “who wants to spend a lot of time pounding their fists and accomplishing very little.” And then there’s a “second path ... taking small wins, moving our economy forward, moving our national defense forward, moving our immigration forward.”

Peay supports aid for Ukraine

In addition to taking a firm stance on continued support for Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia, Peay has sought to align himself with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, current 3rd District Rep. John Curtis and Romney.

“I believe in the civility we’ve seen from Cox, the pragmatism you see from John Curtis, and the bipartisanship you see from Mitt Romney,” Peay said.

Romney — Peay’s uncle-in-law — endorsed Peay on May 8. At the time, Peay told the Deseret News the endorsement was not a family favor and indicated that he was a serious candidate and would be a responsible legislator.

Despite growing pressure from former President Donald Trump and an increasingly isolationist wing of the Republican Party, Peay believes that military support for Ukraine would be a no-brainer for “(Ronald) Reagan and conservatives for the decades that have led up to this.”

“We have a duty that goes back to the Reagan belief of supporting those who will fight for their freedom, which the Ukrainians clearly will,” Peay said. “We need to show that we are not going to allow the Western world to be pushed around.”

Republican 3rd Congressional District candidate Stewart Peay is photographed at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Sen. Mitt Romney endorses 3rd Congressional District candidate Stewart Peay

In the two years since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a war to take over Ukraine, Congress has approved some $175 billion in aid to support the Ukrainian government and provide them with weapons, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Peay doesn’t think the U.S. should provide more non-military aid with questions arising about accountability and corruption in Ukraine. But he is “fully supportive of giving them the weapons and ammunition” to push Russians behind the line they held a year ago before more recent advances.

“We’re talking about what is roughly 3% of our defense budget,” Peay said. “According to British intelligence, Ukrainians have degraded Russian combat power by about 50%. That’s probably the greatest return on investment in the history of the Department of Defense.”

Peay said he “can’t imagine a scenario” where he would support sending American troops to Ukraine. But, he added, the U.S. must continue to pressure NATO partners to pay their fair share by meeting defense-spending requirements.

Ukraine position informed by time in Russia and Iraq

Peay’s views on foreign policy and on how public officials should conduct themselves were formed at a young age. His father worked as the chief of staff for the Utah Army National Guard and retired as the deputy adjutant general.

“Growing up in that environment, you’re taught to love your country, you’re taught duty, you’re taught honor, you’re taught to do what’s best for your country,” Peay said.

Peay was further convinced of American exceptionalism and the need for strong American leaders, he said, after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. He then studied economics at Brigham Young University and received a law degree from BYU’s law school.

Less than six months after taking the bar exam, he was in Baghdad as a National Guard member, where Peay said he spent nearly a year conducting military intelligence for Operation Iraqi Freedom. His task was to help find the infamous “weapons of mass destruction” that spurred America’s 2003 invasion but were never identified.

Ukrainian Ambassador says the fight is about dignity and freedom

Peay understands why “many Americans and Republicans have grown tired of war” after 20-plus years of fighting. But he said the conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq couldn’t be more different. By supporting Ukraine, the U.S. is not initiating a war but supporting an ally, he said.

Working in Iraq with representatives from various allied countries, including Britain, Italy and Ukraine, taught him that to achieve American interests abroad, the United States needs to maintain relationships with a coalition of allies, Peay said.

Peay said the “isolationist strand” within the GOP, which he thinks falls just short of a majority in Congress, is “dangerous” because it emboldens enemies and actually forestalls peace.

“There’s a lot of division at home,” Peay said. “And I think there’s a good argument that we should focus on those things. But one of the duties of being the leader of the free world is that you have to focus on home and away.”

Peay’s policy priorities

Among his other top issues, Peay said his first priority is cutting spending. He would do this by supporting a balanced budget amendment prohibiting Congress from spending more than it receives. This would require cuts across the board, including delaying entitlement programs for everyone under 50, Peay said.

Next is reforming the country’s immigration system. Peay said the country must treat the southern border like the northern border and require asylum-seekers to first make their claim to Mexico before they can apply for asylum in the U.S. He also said the country must counter cartels with more aggressive intelligence operations.

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Peay said one of the most important roles of anyone who represents Utah’s 3rd District, which includes Sandy, Draper, much of Utah County and all of eastern Utah, is to push back against federal overreach on public lands. He said he would continue Curtis’ effort to repeal new Bureau of Land Management conservation rules and would pressure federal agencies to recognize state and county resource plans when implementing changes.

Peay is the lead commercial litigator at Snell & Wilmer, LLP, in Salt Lake City. He served as Utah County GOP chair from 2019-2021. His first foray into electoral politics was when he ran against Curtis in the 3rd District’s special election in 2017, in which he was eliminated at the state GOP nominating convention.

Peay will appear on the primary ballot as one of four candidates, including Roosevelt mayor JR Bird, Sky Zone CEO Case Lawrence and state auditor John Dougall, who qualified by gathering 7,000 certified signatures. They will face the GOP convention nominee, state Sen. Mike Kennedy, in the June 25 primary.

On Nov. 5, the Republican nominee will face off against Democratic candidate Glenn Wright.