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In a crowded 3rd Congressional debate, everyone agreed government is part of the problem

Candidates in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District take part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. From left to right are JR Bird, John Dougall, Mike Kennedy, Case Lawrence and Stewart Peay.
Spenser Heaps
/
for the Deseret News, Pool
Candidates in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District take part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. From left to right are JR Bird, John Dougall, Mike Kennedy, Case Lawrence and Stewart Peay.

It was a packed debate stage for the Republican nomination for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.

Roosevelt Mayor JR Bird, Utah State Auditor John Dougall, state Sen. Mike Kennedy, entrepreneur Case Lawrence and attorney Stewart Peay showed up to make their pitch to voters. All five were sharply critical of the federal government – but differed in their solutions.

When Rep. John Curtis announced his run for Senate his seat became an open question. The primary candidates were enthusiastic about upholding Curtis’ legacy in Congress, particularly when it came to participating in the Conservative Climate Caucus, which Curtis founded. Each wanted to build on their own Utah experiences as a way to tackle the problems they see in D.C.

Case Lawrence, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
Spenser Heaps
/
for the Deseret News, Pool
Case Lawrence, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Housing

When it came to housing affordability, a top-of-mind problem for Utahns, all five candidates agreed that the federal government contributed to the crisis. Lawrence was particularly critical of the Biden administration, which he called “flat-footed” on the issue of inflation.

“When you look at the cost of a house, no single product has been more affected by inflation,” he added. He believes cutting spending is the key to reducing inflation and housing prices as a result.

Peay attributed the problem to a lack of land for development. He would focus on reclaiming it “back from the federal government [so] that we could use to put land back on the market for development and for more homes.”

Kennedy and Bird would both focus on deregulation to bring down prices. Bird wants “government out of the way” when it comes to the industries surrounding housing. Adding “we need to deregulate a lot of those industries, and we need to let that free market in the economy do its thing.”

Kennedy specifically wanted to reduce “onerous tariffs on the fundamental materials associated with building, including lumber.”

Dougall, a fierce opponent of deeper government involvement in markets, instead believes the solution will come on the labor side in the form of improved immigration policy.

“We've got a broken immigration system which is impairing labor supply. Construction workers are hard to find, and there are opportunities for folks that want to live and pursue the American dream in a legal immigration system that would help.”

JR Bird, left, and John Dougall, right, candidates in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, take part in a televised debate moderated by Thomas Wright at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
Spenser Heaps
/
for the Deseret News, Pool
JR Bird, left, and John Dougall, right, candidates in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, take part in a televised debate moderated by Thomas Wright at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

National debt

If there was a consistent critique of the government shared by the primary candidates, it was the budget and federal spending. All drew on their personal backgrounds to explain their commitment to cutting spending and taming the national debt.

The question was in the wheelhouse of “Frugal” Dougall, the current Utah State Auditor. He said oversight on spending is “what I’ve done for decades.” He was animated as he explained the value of that experience in a world where “most people do not understand numbers. They're afraid of numbers. They do not understand budgets. That includes congressmen and women.”

Kennedy said he grew up in poverty and learned that if “I didn't control money, money would control me.” The solution for him was to rein in spending to get a handle on the debt. He pledged to “vote no on every omnibus bill that comes to me that I don't even get a chance to read. These are a thousand page bills and people are given less than three hours to read them. The answer is no when that happens.”

Leaning on his business experience, and in a similar position as Kennedy, Case Lawrence wants to “end big government giveaways in the form of these big aggregate spending bills and student loan forgiveness. All of these are immoral and wrong.”

Bird also cited his experience as a businessman, as well as his experience balancing budgets as mayor of rural Roosevelt, Utah. He said he would support “legislation that will tie the hands of Congress and not allow them to work on anything else unrelated to the budget until the budget is passed. It's our number one fiduciary responsibility, and it's something that we need to take serious.”

JR Bird, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
Spenser Heaps
/
for the Deseret News, Pool
JR Bird, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Peay’s parents are the ones who taught him “the value of a dollar,” he said. Citing the discipline he learned in military service, he said having more veterans in office would help Congress work together effectively.

“We need people who go to Congress and stand tough, who will drive us back to transparency and openness about the budget budgeting process,” he added.

As a first move to slashing the budget, the candidates were asked in rapid fire to name what they would cut. Dougall said the “Department of Ed.” Kennedy, a doctor by trade, noted “Medicare and Medicaid are rife with waste.” Lawrence pointed to “unproved green climate schemes.” Peay said he would “cut transportation and send it back to the states.” Bird said he would take aim at “mandatory welfare spending.”

Stewart Peay, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
Spenser Heaps
/
for the Deseret News, Pool
Stewart Peay, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Abortion

This is the Utah Republican primary, so all five candidates were direct about their pro-life stances and praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Kennedy said “we should support Women in making the choice to keep those babies,” adding that “some states are doing this terribly wrong. Utah does it right. We allow abortion, with rare exceptions.”

Utah’s “trigger law” which would ban abortion with exceptions for maternal health threats or rape and incest reported to the police is currently held up in court. A 2019 ban on abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy is in effect right now following the end of Roe v. Wade.

Kennedy, Bird, Peay and Dougall all agreed this issue should be decided at the state level, rather than imposing a federal ban. Lawrence differed.

“I support letting this play out at the state level for now, but we have to be aware of what's happening in our country, namely California.”

Lawrence also named Illinois, New York and Oregon as extreme abortion states, which “are marketing and encouraging abortion tourism throughout our country.” If that continues, he said “we need to strongly consider a federal ban. I think a 15-week ban is supported by most Americans, and I could certainly support that.”

Mike Kennedy, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
Spenser Heaps
/
for the Deseret News, Pool
Mike Kennedy, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

An election year KFF health tracking poll from March found partisan disagreement on the question of a nationwide 15- or 16–week ban. Overall, 58% of adults are opposed. If you ask by party, 75% of Democrats and 59% of independents are opposed while a majority of Republicans, 63%, support it.

Dougall, however, was adamant that the federal government no longer be involved in deciding abortion.

“Our federal government is one of limited powers with everything else left to the state and the people. We spent 50 years as a Republican Party making the case that this is a state issue.”

He believes “continuing to push it at the federal level will ultimately end up with a California style pro-abortion plan and policies.”

Mail in primary ballots must be postmarked by June 24. The winner of this primary will go on to face Democrat Glenn Wright in the general election.

Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
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