Tensions flare at congressional debate for Utah House District 2 candidates

The Southern Utah University Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service and the Utah Debate Commission held a televised debate on Friday, Oct. 14, for candidates campaigning for the second district seat in the Utah House of Representatives.

The debate took place in the SUU Auditorium and lasted from 6-7 p.m. The topics discussed ranged from inflation to education.

The candidates involved in the debate were Republican incumbent Chris Stewart, Democrat Nick Mitchell and Constitution Party representative Cassie Easley. Boyd Matheson of KSL News Radio moderated the discussion.

With the first question focusing on inflation, both Stewart and Easley agreed that government overspending is to blame, with Stewart placing the fault on the current administration.

“Two years ago, there was no inflation,” Stewart said. “This was absolutely created by the federal government, by Pelosi, by Schumer, by Biden and by trillions of dollars in spending.”

Meanwhile, Easley stated that the state government needs to shift its focus to helping Utah businesses get back to their routine operations.

“First, we need to get people back to work because not only do we have inflation, but it’s to the point where we are in a recession,” Easley said. “The government needs to quit spending the taxpayers’ dollars on things that are not helping us to get back to work.”

One of Mitchell’s proposed solutions to the problem was to help small businesses that are struggling because of larger companies profiting off of private goods.

“We’re not in a truly free market,” Mitchell said. “What we need to do is make it so that we are in a truly free market, and that is by invoking anti-trust laws and making it so the small businesses can come up and have their fair share.”

During the next question, which asked what the federal government should start doing and what it should stop doing, Easley began by voicing her views on how the government has not been following the Constitution.

“I really have a problem trusting the government to follow the Constitution the way that it was written,” Easley said. “They go in and make all kinds of laws that are not even within their scope of what they’re supposed to be allowed to do.”

Mitchell then said that the government should stop allowing corporate lobbyists to persuade candidates and politicians with funds, as he believed that they should not be interfering with politics.

“It needs to be about the people, so that’s why I’ve promised to not take money from corporate PACs, from Super PACs or from any type of PAC,” Mitchell said.

In terms of what the government should start doing, both Easley and Mitchell agreed that candidates and politicians should take action on the stances they care about instead of simply using them as talking points for reelection.

Stewart answered that the government should stop spreading misinformation, specifically citing the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Justice and the FBI.

“You have the CDC, or other health professionals, say things that they know at the time are not true, and they’ll come back and admit later on that they knew that it wasn’t true,” Stewart said. “It breaks faith in basic institutions.”

Mitchell took an opposing view to Stewart’s stance, citing that Stewart was being hypocritical in his views of honesty in politics because of his handling of the 2020 elections.

“To me, it’s interesting that Rep. Stewart brought up the truth, because on Jan. 6 [2021] we had an opportunity to do the right thing, the truthful thing, and he chose not to certify the election,” Mitchell said. “Even after the Capitol was stormed, he chose not to do it. I think that speaks a lot about truth.”

Stewart disagreed with Mitchell’s claims, stating that his vote, which was against certifying Pennsylvania’s vote count in 2021, would not have changed the results of the election.

“Well, that’s just nonsense,” Stewart said. “By my one vote, it was one state that would not have changed the election, and I made it clear: my intention is not to change the election; I’ve already recognized him as our president.”

Stewart then challenged Mitchell’s accusation.

“To say that I didn’t accept the election or that I sought to overturn the election is simply not true,” Stewart said. “Honestly, if you’re going to make that kind of accusation, which is essentially treason, you should understand if it’s true or not.”

When Mitchell responded to this claim, Stewart tried to interrupt him but was quickly silenced by the Democratic candidate. Mitchell then suggested that Stewart did not vote on his own beliefs but rather on what the Republican Party persuaded him to vote for.

“You were just told to do this by your Republican leaders,” Mitchell said. “That’s the only reason why you do things.”

The tension from this argument lasted throughout the remainder of the debate as the candidates dove into other issues, including abortion, state’s rights and an extension of the question regarding inflation.

In their closing statements, all three members of the debate thanked the organizers for putting together the event and then stated what they believed viewers should take away from the debate.

Mitchell paraphrased Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to voice his overall beliefs of what the United States should be:

“I have the audacity to believe that the people of Utah will pick a person, not a party. I have the audacity to believe that we can make America great for everyone. And if you have the audacity to believe this, then I humbly ask for your vote.”

Stewart used his closing statement to voice his views on how Republican Party leadership will benefit the nation more than that of the Democratic Party.

“Conservative leadership is what is essential to save our nation now,” Stewart said. “That’s what I represent, and that’s what I want to continue to do in Congress. Thank you for giving me that opportunity. God bless you all.”

Easley stated that she is tired of the two-party system and reflected upon her views that having a third party representing Utah would be better for the citizens of the state:

“We are supposed to be a government of the people, and we have become a government of political parties that are fighting over who is going to be in control of it,” Easley said. “I am a normal person that is tired of watching the infighting between the two parties and have decided to just stand up and be a representative of the people that actually is one of those people.”

The general election will take place in less than a month on Tuesday, Nov. 8. To access voting information or to register to vote, visit Utah’s official voter registration website. Those interested can watch the full debate on YouTube.

Story and Photos by: Luke McKenzie