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Bishop And Clemens Fight For 1st District Seat

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Pool photo
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Congressman Rob Bishop and challenger Peter Clemens shook hands at the 1st District debate.

Education, the environment and public lands are important to voters in the 1st Congressional District.  Incumbent Republican Rob Bishop holds powerful influence over these issues in Congress, but Democrat Peter Clemens says he could bring a fresh voice to Capitol Hill. 

At Utah’s State Capitol, Rob Bishop stood in front of a room full of seniors from Layton and Altamont High Schools. The Congressman, a former government and history teacher himself, was in his element.

“So for now until we are ready for lunch, do you have anything you want to go over?” Bishop asked, waiting through a moment of silence. “Well, nice staring at you,” he went on, with a laugh from the room.  

“Have you always known that you wanted to do this?” a girl in the class asked.  

“In congress or teach school?”

“In congress,” she asked.  

“No, actually I didn’t,” Bishop began.

A longtime resident of Brigham City, Bishop taught at Box Elder High School while getting his start in politics in the Utah Legislature. In 2003 he was elected to Congress where he’s been reelected ever since.

In the U.S. House, Bishop is the Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources and is a member of the Armed Services Committee. He says these roles relate to the main issues in District 1.  

“Making sure that I have a senior position on the Armed Services Committee means that we can be in a position to be very protective of Hill Airforce Base, and especially the workforce that is around it,” Bishop said. “The other deal is with my other assignment, which is resources, since almost 70 percent of Utah is actually controlled by the federal government.”

Bishop’s political views can almost always be traced back to a philosophy of trying to make government smaller and bring power from the federal level back to states.

“That allows people to have their voices heard in a way that is far more effective than what we’re doing now,” Bishop said.

Bishop’s opponent, Democrat Dr. Peter Clemens, is a critic of the Congressman in part because of where his funding comes from.  

“Now I am running against a seven-term incumbent who raises 99 percent of his funding from outside the district and 92.6 percent from outside of the state of Utah. I don’t believe that this is good for Utah,” Clemens said.

Clemens has tried to reach out to as many voters as possible in the vast 1st District. Recently he stopped by a meeting of the Utah League of Native American Voters at the Urban Indian Center in Salt Lake City.

Clemens appealed to Ute tribal members about the importance of early education on reservations, clean energy development and how a possible national monument at Bears Ears in southeastern Utah might affect tribal management of public lands.

At a recent debate, moderator Jennifer Napier-Pearce asked both candidates what they would say if Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel asked their advice on a proposed Bears Ears national monument.

“I believe that the best pathway would have been legislation to take care of this area. It has not, and so I do support a monument in the Bears Ears,” Clemens said.

Bishop responded.

“Unfortunately, she has asked my advice and I have told her that advice and that’s the worst thing that could possibly be happening. For the President to abuse the Antiquities Act, that’s what this would be,” Bishop said.  

The two candidates’ views diverge sharply over Congressman Bishop’s alternative to the Bear’s Ears monument, his controversial bill the Public Lands Initiative.

That bill would renegotiate control of around 18 million acres of federal land in Utah for energy exploration, mining, grazing, conservation, and recreation. It stalled because of criticism from environmental groups saying it softens definitions of wilderness and opens up too much public land to energy development.

“I’m trying to get people together and to compromise who have never compromised in their lives. So we’re gonna have a bill in which somebody wins something but no one can win everything that they want,” Bishop said.  

Clemens says the PLI would take control of sacred lands away from tribes and open up wilderness areas to excessive oil and gas exploration.

“The rest of the world comes to Utah not because we have fracking pads and because we have oil rigs, it comes here to be able to use our iconic lands and to visit our national parks,” Clemens said.

It’s hard to say whether enough time remains in the current congressional sessions for lawmakers to act on the Public Lands Initiative. But Bishop is confident that congress will pass the legislation in this session or the next one.

Another big issue for Clemens’ campaign is the environment. He’s vocal about the Salt Lake valley’s air pollution and he supports the EPA strengthening clean air regulations in Utah. And his career as a physician in Ogden makes healthcare a prominent issue of his campaign.

“We have done very little to reign in healthcare spending in the country. I think as somebody who’s seen healthcare through the lens of a primary care physician, I know what needs to be done to reduce healthcare spending,” Clemens said.

So far Bishop has outspent Clemens three to one. Although he’s a Democrat, Clemens has not endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Bishop broke with other Utah Republicans by endorsing Donald Trump throughout the leaked video controversy and later accusations of sexual assault.

Still, as the political newcomer, Peter Clemens will face an uphill battle unseating seven-term incumbent, Rob Bishop.   

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