The crowded Republican field vying to occupy Rep. John Curtis’ 3rd District seat disagreed on Ukraine aid and federal abortion bans in an hourlong debate on Wednesday. But each of the five candidates was united in their commitment to continue the current congressman’s legacy of forward-looking energy policy.

The cast of congressional hopefuls each praised Curtis’ role in changing the conversation around conservative, but climate conscious, routes to American energy dominance. State Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine; Roosevelt Mayor JR Bird; Former Sky Zone CEO Case Lawrence; State Auditor John Dougall; and commercial litigator Stewart Peay all said they would join Curtis’ Conservative Climate Caucus if nominated in the June 25 primary and elected on Nov. 5.

“I believe Rep. Curtis has done a good job bringing us into an opportunity to actually be at the table instead of on the menu,” said Kennedy, who received the GOP’s convention nomination on April 27. “We need to unleash energy dominance and also work on clean air and water, which we can do in Utah and in the United States of America.”

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Like his opponents, Kennedy proposed an all-of-the-above approach to energy production, including technological innovations to ensure “traditional versions of energy,” like coal and natural gas, continue to play a part in American energy.

The energy industry is particularly important to Utah’s 3rd Congressional District — which encompasses Utah’s coal country, the oil-rich Uinta Basin and the nation’s sole operating uranium processing plant near Blanding.

All five candidates voiced support for a nuclear power plant in Utah and made the argument that investing in and freeing up American energy is essential for economic prosperity and national security.

“We shouldn’t leave this topic to the Democrats to control,” Dougall said. “I think with our free market approaches we have a much better way to address not only our environmental concerns but having better energy policy for Americans.”

Peay called Curtis’ leadership on energy “unmatched.” Lawrence said if conservatives fail to offer an alternative to “extreme climate theory” then Democrat proposals will “ruin our fiscal house” and Bird clarified the Conservative Climate Caucus had nothing to do with “pandering to climate extremists.”

“This is a platform that we can utilize to tell the truth about energy,” Bird said, later adding, “We only talk about a lot of times the negative impacts of energy, and we need to be talking about the positive impacts.”

Falling out over Ukraine funding

Candidates found themselves at odds on most other issues, especially Ukraine aid. The most recent tranche of Ukraine military and humanitarian support also divided Utah’s congressional delegation, with Reps. Blake Moore and Curtis supporting the measure, and Reps. Burgess Owens and Celeste Maloy opposing it.

Bird and Dougall said they would have voted no. Lawerence and Peay said they would have voted yes. And Kennedy said he would need to read the bill first.

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“If we don’t stand with Ukraine, if we don’t provide them the weapons and ammunition that they need, then ... the Chinese and the Iranians will see the weakness in America and they will take advantage of it — places like Taiwan and the Middle East will grow worse,” Peay said. “When America is not proactive is when she suffers.”

Lawrence said the “world was on fire” because President Joe Biden has “projected weakness.”

“We need strength and deterrence on the world stage, a strong American presence,” Lawrence said. “Part of that formula for a strong American presence is supporting our allies abroad.”

Bird cited a lack of transparency with funding and an incoherent approach from the Biden administration as reasons for his reticence in supporting more funding. Dougall said American involvement in Ukraine left the country unprepared for future conflicts.

The national debt threat

Dougall, who has adopted the moniker “frugal Dougall,” called the $34.5 trillion national debt “one of the greatest security threats we face in our nation” and one of his main reasons for running.

Candidates were asked one thing they would cut to work toward a balanced federal budget. Dougall said the Department of Education. Kennedy said parts of Medicare and Medicaid that are “rife with waste.” Lawrence said “unproven green climate schemes.” Peay said he would send transportation funds back to the states. Bird said he would cut $500 billion in recently added “mandatory welfare spending.”

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The 3rd District candidates’ penchant for limited-government talking points came through on the topic of housing affordability. Most said the federal government contributed to the problem through inflationary spending and overregulation and that the best response was for government to get out of the way.


On abortion, Bird, Peay and Dougall said restrictions should be entirely left to the states. Lawrence and Kennedy said they were open to a federal ban.

Candidates tried to differentiate themselves with verbal attacks in their final comments and post-debate press conferences. Peay criticized Lawrence for not growing up in Utah or living within the district. Bird called out Kennedy for voting in favor of policies that make Utah a more welcoming place for migrants who entered the country illegally and are looking for work or higher education.

Dougall, who has declared himself the anti-MAGA candidate, used his closing statement and time with reporters to decry the direction of his party.

“America needs more than an agenda of vengeance and retribution,” Dougall said. “Today, we need big ideas more than ever before to restore America to that beacon of hope and opportunity for the future.”

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