When Doug Owens, the Democratic candidate for Utah’s 4th Congressional seat, was asked about the fundamental difference between himself and his Republican challenger, Mia Love, he spoke about Love’s endorsement of the government shutdown earlier in the year when Washington had to approve a new federal budget.
The Utah Taxpayers Association, headed for the past 36 years by long-term Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper), arranged the association’s conference and subsequent luncheon where the U.S. congressional candidates in Utah’s 4th Congressional District (Salt Lake and Utah County) were given a few minutes to respond to moderator questions.
Instead of an actual debate, it was more of an encounter, where Love and Owens showed how they differed in a state known to be as red as this rhubarb witnessed by more than 250 people at Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel.
Owens came out of his corner swinging once the Republican began with a list of her accomplishments as the mayor of Saratoga Springs, a Utah County town of just under 18,000 – located in one of the conservative state’s most conservative areas. Indeed the Republican National Committee is so confident of victory that they have opened an office nearby.
As the debate progressed, the tough talk continued to grow – setting the tone for the upcoming election to replace outgoing Congressman, Jim Matheson. Owens said that Love has been on the record as wanting to end the student loan system, and during his remarks when he claimed she had benefited by that system as a borrower, she interrupted with an emphatic, “WRONG.”
To the assembled audience, Love indicated her preference that the tax code be simplified and reduced to a “three ring binder,” offering a factoid that the current code has more than “4 million words. That’s more than the bible.” At a Utah taxpayers group, it was squarely on message. Owens called out Love’s prior affiliation with extreme positions by the tea party and the Ted Cruz / Mike Lee government shutdown crowd. “To approve what [Lee] had done, she went there and she applauded,” referring to the costly government shutdown that most of the GOP is now disavowing. “I intend to draw distinctions between us on positions, and I think that every politician in her shoes would like to sort of forget some of their past and just cast herself as a more moderate person at this point in time,” he said. Owens believes that it is his job to tell the voters that “there is a clear record there.”
During the respective time allotments, Love thanked Owens for using her name during his comments, perhaps in an attempt to influence the cadence of her challenger’s remarks. “I’m flattered that you bring up my name so much, that you’re watching me so closely,” she said at one point. After reiterating her commitment to seniors on Medicare but challenging “Obamacare,” Love drew more of Owens fire when he countered with his claim that she had wanted to “privatize” Medicare with a voucher system.
Then the moderator, former Democratic lawmaker Frank Pignanelli, ignited the local powder keg issue when he asked the candidates about their positions on public lands and how they should be handled by congress. Love intends to pursue her party’s efforts to emphasize state’s local control and ownership, as with the recent efforts promoted by the American Lands Council.
The GOP largely wants to have the BLM release the federal government’s control. But Owens indicated that while the state likes to trumpet its management prowess, it is not fiscally capable of managing the federal lands located in Utah. “We are on a gravy train here, and I would hesitate to interrupt that,” referring to the amount of monies that federal government spends to manage land and open spaces presently involving sacred native american burial sites and other sensitive locales. Critics of the BLM would like to open more of the 20 million acres in Utah to development, saying that potential revenues would more than offset the costs.
When Owen was asked if this kind of headbutting would be the norm during the campaign, he said that as a candidate, he would try to do a better job at describing their differences. “She’s a fascinating person, and I’m not attempting to disparage her personally,” Owens stated. Love, for her part, said that “a good indicator of somebody who doesn’t have the qualifications to do the job…the only thing they can do is actually attack the other person.”