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

The institutions of Washington, D.C., are sick, according to state Sen. Mike Kennedy. But the party-backed candidate for Utah’s 3rd District Republican primary claims the cure for Congress isn’t found in the shock therapy of partisan showdowns.

Kennedy, a practicing doctor and trained lawyer, is more likely to prescribe the attentive bedside manner and persuasive advocacy he says served him in the state legislature over the last decade. He believes building relationships, not bombastic rhetoric, is key to ending paralysis on issues like border security, national debt and inflation — and to healing the country.

But that doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the extent of the nation’s ailments.

“We need to recognize there’s a problem,” Kennedy said. “And the problem is elected officials ... that are unresponsive to the daily needs of our citizens in the form of buying and spending on things that are unnecessary, creating inflationary trends.”

Mike Kennedy — Doctor, lawyer, legislator

Having “diagnosed” the problem, Kennedy said the best way to “treat” it is to send the right kind of problem-solver back to Washington, D.C., to replace outgoing Rep. John Curtis.

“We need a coalition of people that are willing to actually make a difference and not be grandstanding and fundraising and disagreeable about that approach they’re going to take,” Kennedy said.

As a family physician with a practice in Lindon, Kennedy says he knows what it takes to heal the individual. And as a former malpractice attorney, Kennedy said he’s seen how the law helps heal society.

The two qualifications can come together at a higher level, Kennedy says, if Republicans in the 3rd District send the only sitting lawmaker in the race to represent them in Washington, D.C., to try “to heal that place.”

Mike Kennedy, running for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, is photographed during an interview with the Deseret News at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Kennedy: Reform wasteful programs to begin healing America

Fittingly, Kennedy said a healthier lifestyle for the federal government begins with health care reform. While the fights on Capitol Hill often center around the budget, they rarely touch the mandatory spending programs that contribute most to the country’s deficits, Kennedy said.

“I know Medicare and Medicaid and how there are — over and over again — systems that I see as either redundant or unnecessary that are costing our taxpayers billions of dollars,” Kennedy said. “If I can build that coalition that I keep talking about with my legislative colleagues, ... we can actually eliminate programs that don’t make any difference to the quality of care.”

One way Kennedy wants to improve Medicaid — government-provided health insurance for low income families — is to remove the incentive for states to grow Medicaid rolls while relying on the federal government to pick up additional costs. Instead, the state should be given funding through block grants for Medicaid that it will be more careful in distributing, Kennedy said.

“There are ways to full freight pay for the Medicaid needs, but then make the state use its innovative capacities to utilize Medicaid money in a more effective way,” Kennedy said.

Republicans’ appetite for government: Most want expansion, not cuts, of entitlement programs

Medicare, which provides health insurance to disabled individuals and those over 65, is rife with vendor programs that increase taxpayer costs without changing health care outcomes, Kennedy said. They do this by obtaining lists of Medicare recipients and offering them free, and “entirely unnecessary,” products that have been included in Medicare payment programs, according to Kennedy.

“That’s just one of many programs that are just the same way,” Kennedy said.

But Kennedy is no slash-and-burn libertarian.

He believes there is a place for smart government programs that “Give a hand up, not a hand out.” For example, he thinks a better use of Medicare funds could be to incentivize elderly people to go to the gym and exercise instead of “passively buying” products that vendors provide.

“The reality is we can move the ball forward just gently on this stuff,” Kennedy said. “I’m not expecting cancer chemotherapy and surgical treatments immediately right away for everything. Some of this is incremental, and we have to approach it that way.”

Kennedy’s legislative track record

This incremental approach, and a willingness to “work with all sorts of people with different opinions,” handed Kennedy one of his most notable legislative achievements, he said.

In 2023, after several failed attempts, Kennedy successfully sponsored a bill that banned transgender surgeries and treatments for Utah children.

“That bill is a good example of a thoughtful civil process, working with all parties on both sides of a variety of complicated issues,” Kennedy said.

Three months after the bill passed, Kennedy’s home was vandalized in retaliation.

Home of Utah lawmaker who sponsored bill banning transgender surgeries for minors vandalized

Kennedy was first elected to the state legislature as a House representative in 2012. He left to run for U.S. Senate against Mitt Romney, where he won at the GOP nominating convention before losing in the primary.

Kennedy returned in 2020 by winning a special election for Utah Senate, where he represents roughly 20% of the 3rd District’s population in northern Utah County, Kennedy said.

Now that he’s turned his eyes toward Congress again, Kennedy promises potential constituents that he’ll pursue creative solutions to the country’s most difficult issues. But he says he can’t promise he’ll find willing partners.

Where does Mike Kennedy stand on border security, Ukraine?

Many of his would-be congressional colleagues are too preoccupied with fundraising and winning reelection to recognize common ground on issues like immigration, Kennedy said.

The sustained chaos at the southern border demands a national security response, Kennedy said, and he thinks he could unite a majority of lawmakers around heightened fentanyl detection measures and a policy that automatically bars migrants from entering the U.S. if they are found “with a trace of fentanyl on them.”

On foreign policy, Kennedy is supportive of selling military resources to Ukraine or forcing Russia to pay for it by seizing their assets. But Kennedy draws a line at sending U.S. troops to the embattled ally.

His willingness to back Ukraine in its defensive war against Russian President Vladimir Putin comes from statements by legislative leadership with top-secret briefings saying that if the U.S. doesn’t support Ukraine, then Putin’s expansionist ambitions will require a much greater American response later on.

“I’m very concerned we may be at the beginning of World War III,” Kennedy said. “Brutal dictators should be hit heavily early on to prevent them from continuing to expand and making the problem worse.”

Mike Kennedy, running for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, is photographed during an interview with the Deseret News at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Convention winner

Kennedy is the only candidate on the 3rd District primary ballot that did not attempt to qualify via signature gathering. Instead, he advanced to the primary after talking with all the state delegates he could and winning their support in a landslide at the state GOP nominating convention on April 27 with 61.5% in the final round of voting.

The victory makes him the party-backed candidate and has brought “wind to the sails” because of access to party resources, money and volunteers, Kennedy said. The candidate also counts on endorsements from Utah’s top legislative leadership, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.

State Sen. Mike Kennedy wins 3rd Congressional District GOP nomination after 6 rounds of voting

Before the convention, Kennedy had raised more money than any of his competition, with over $341,000 in total contributions — not including a $156,000 loan he gave his campaign. But some of his opponents have invested much more of their personal wealth into the race.

Former Sky Zone CEO Case Lawrence has poured nearly $1.3 million of his money into his campaign, making him the biggest dollar candidate in the race, with Roosevelt Mayor JR Bird close behind with a $1 million loan.

Voters will decide between five candidates in the June 25 Republican primary election, that includes Kennedy, Lawerence, Bird, State Auditor John Dougall and commercial litigator Stewart Peay.

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

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