Welcome to this special edition of SUU News. On Jan. 24, I (Co-Editor-in-Chief Megan Fairbanks) interviewed Congressman Chris Stewart, who represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. Before his time in Congress, Stewart served in the United States Air Force where he set three world speed records. He has also written 14 books and is the father of 3 children.
Q: You are hosting a Valentine’s Day Card Drive to honor Utah Veterans. Since you are an Air Force veteran yourself, tell us a little about why this is an important event for veterans and Utahns alike.
A: Thanks for asking that, that’s a great question. You see my Air Force wings. These are actually my father’s. I come from a family of ten kids if you can imagine. Six sons and five of us served in the military so it’s kind of deep in our DNA, our veterans, our soldiers and our soldiers’ families. If you talk to people in southern Utah, you’ve got the triple deuce, or the guard units down here — one of the best guard units in the country. And if I had a group at town hall maybe a hundred people, and I’d say, “How many of you served in the military?” almost everyone raises their hand. So in this community, and I mean in Utah generally, we really love and appreciate our veterans. But if you go to some of the veterans homes in St. George, for example out in Ivins, or up in Salt Lake City, some of those veterans are alone. Their families have passed, some of them don’t have the support around them, people that they care about. And so we just wanted to remind them: hey, we love you, we appreciate you and on Valentine’s, which is a special day for a lot of people we don’t want them to feel lonely. I think last year we collected more than ten thousand valentines. People in the community throughout the state were so good about bringing valentines in. They can bring them to our offices in Salt Lake or St. George, we’ll collect them, package them, and distribute them to these veterans. We get letters and thank you cards from them, and it made a real difference for these veterans. We do those kinds of projects all the time; we’ve collected books for mothers with young children, we do a drive every fall for the children of refugees, so we try to help in the community but this is one of my favorite things to do.
Q: And this drive will go until February 9, is that correct?
A: That sounds about right. We get so many, so to package them and distribute them, it takes us a few days.
Q: In the last year, I know there’s been some controversy regarding the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
A: Oh, there hasn’t been controversy, come on. What are you talking about?
Q: You are the cosponsor of two pieces of legislation that would work to protect those affected by the DACA repeal. Can you tell us a little about that?
A: I’m going to give a little bit of background on that if I could. I have never talked to anyone – well, maybe one or two people – who don’t agree we have to be able to secure our border. It’s just a fundamental responsibility of any government to secure their border and to know who is in their country. I haven’t talked to many people as well who don’t say, you know if you came here as an infant — I know a young man who came here when he was about two. He doesn’t have a home to go home to. This is his home. What else would we do with him? So for those groups, those individuals who came here as children, as minors, we have to recognize that we have to accommodate them and make them feel as if they have a future. There are some differences that some people may disagree on. For example, I think if you’ve entered the country illegally, I don’t think you can just — with a stroke of the pen have one man, the president of the United States as President Obama wanted to do, make them citizens. I think becoming a citizen is something you have to earn, and you have to pay a price for. On the other hand, I would be willing to talk with them about legal status so as they come out of the shadows they can work, they can give their children a future, they don’t have to worry about being sent back home. Almost everyone we’ve talked to says you know what, that seems like a reasonable compromise. As you know this last weekend we had a government shutdown over this issue. Which is really unfortunate, because ironically Republicans and Democratic support — there is broad agreement on the subject. I think we’ll get there sometime in the next few weeks, in February. It might take a week or two longer, but if we don’t, by the way, shame on those people who aren’t helping us because this is a big issue for a lot of people. As I said, there is bipartisan support.
Q: Moving on to Utah itself, we’ve seen some changes particularly to our national monuments. President Trump recently announced that he was greatly reducing the size of the Grand Staircase – Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. The Escalante monument is actually in your district. How do you feel about these changes?
A: That was absolutely the right thing to do. You’d have to go back … President Clinton didn’t come to Utah, he sat in Arizona and pointed into Utah and said, “I’m going to create a nearly 2 million acre national monument over there in Utah.” 1.88 million acres, which is a huge piece of land. Now, when I got out of the Air Force — you mentioned I was a writer — as a writer, I could live anywhere in the world, virtually anywhere. All I need is a laptop. But I chose to live in Utah. I think you and a lot of people who are going to be watching this, I love Utah. No one forced us to live here. You didn’t have to come here, to go to school. You chose to. And we want it to be special for our children and our grandchildren. But 1.88 million acres was just too big, it was unnecessary. And this is what it’s meant to those families. I tell people all the time, I feel like I’m standing up for the little guy. There are schools impacted by the Grand Staircase monument. 15 years ago, they had around 160 students. Now, this same school I’m talking about has about 40. It’s not because people quit having children, it’s because families can’t stay there because they took away their source of income. It’s because families can’t stay there because they took away their source of income. It’s really, really tough to raise a family on a seasonal job like tourism. But if you’re a rancher, your dad’s a rancher and he wants you to have a ranch but the government is taking away the permits that you rely on if you are working in the timber industry if you’re working in coal mines, some of these other industries. I just think we can do both, and that’s what the reduction of the monuments was intended to do. It was meant to protect the land that was so beautiful, to keep it pristine and keep it available to people, but on the other hand, open up some of the economic opportunities. I’ve opened up legislation to create a sixth national park in Utah. Some of that is gorgeous country — it’s as beautiful as Zion or Bryce or any of these other national parks. Let’s recognize this area as being an incredible piece of land. This is something we want everyone in the world to come and enjoy. But at the same time, some of these other places, they’re just sagebrush. They don’t look any different from the rest of Utah, but there are economic opportunities there. Let’s open those up so that these families can stay together, and I think we can find a way to do both.
Q: Last year you introduced the Victims’ Voice and Transparency Act. This would allow victims of sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill to release the names of those accused and the amount of settlement they received if there was any. Especially in the face of what’s been happening in Hollywood these last few months, this act seems especially important.
A: I have two beautiful daughters, young women. If someone treated them the way some of these other young women have been treated, I would rain hell down on these guys. And yet in Congress and in some government positions, those people are protected. Now, if you’ve been a victim of harassment, and you want to maintain your privacy, you don’t want the whole world to know. I appreciate that I respect that. I don’t think you should be compelled to be public about that. If, on the other hand, you want people to know — you want that person to be held accountable, you just want to tell your story, I think you should be able to do that. The rules were set up that if someone had been harassed in Congress by a Congressperson, one of the first things they had to do was sign a nondisclosure agreement which compelled them to be silent. I think that’s insane. I think, once again, if they choose to and want to come forward, then God bless them and let’s protect their privacy. If they want this person to be held accountable and they want to tell their story, then let’s allow them the right and the opportunity to do that. I think it would be terribly ironic for some young woman, who had been abused or harassed by someone in Congress, forced to sign this non disclosure agreement so she couldn’t tell anyone — they maybe give her a settlement and she goes on her way, tries to live her life and be happy — and to watch her abuser in Congress and not have anyone know? I can imagine him standing up and talking about how he wants to protect women, or women’s rights or women’s reproductive rights or whatever it might be, and for that person to have to listen to that? I think it would be extraordinarily difficult for them. Let’s just make it so they have the option if they choose to.
Q: We are curious about whether or not you’re planning on running for Orrin Hatch’s seat.
A: The answer is we don’t know. We don’t know what Governor Romney’s going to do. We feel like to be respectful of the process, I think I should consider that and I think it would be dismissive not to at least consider it, but we haven’t made a decision yet.
Q: What is your opinion of Mitt Romney possibly running for Senate?
A: We’ll just let Mitt make his own decision there.
Q&A Reported By
Featured Photo By Mitchell Quartz
Production Assistance By SUTV and The University Journal