Candidates for Utah’s 1st Congressional District debate scuffled over public lands, immigration and the national debt on Wednesday night in a wide-ranging debate that pitted eight-term GOP incumbent Rob Bishop against two challengers.
“Washington sucks, but it’s not nearly as bad as what you hear all the time,” said Bishop on a question about civility and lack of bipartisanship in Washington.
Bishop faced off against Democrat Lee Castillo, a social worker, and Eric Eliason of the newly formed moderate United Utah Party at Utah State University in Logan in their first and only debate for a seat representing the district that stretches from Box Elder to Uintah County.
The eight-term Republican is seeking what he says will be his final term in Congress.
As chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee, Bishop has led legislative efforts for the kind of deregulation the Trump Administration has advocated.
Long a proponent of giving states more discretion over public land decisions, Bishop applauded the Trump administration’s move to scale back the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
“What President Trump did is actually a compromise, I think people should look at that,” Bishop said in response to a question about the monuments rollback. “By taking those areas that really did have historic value, leaving those as monuments, and the rest is left [under] BLM control.”
But Eliason said he questioned Bishop’s motives in supporting plans that could reopen parts of the original Grand Staircase-Escalante monument to extractive industries.
“His committee has received $6 million from the oil and gas industry,” said Eliason. “I have a hard time seeing how our congressman can be objective when that is the case. He says he has our back — I question that.”
Eliason was the only third party candidate to qualify for the Utah Debate Commission’s five televised congressional debates after gaining enough support.
Eliason sought to distinguish himself from Bishop and Castillo with a more middle-of-the-road platform on issues such as health care and immigration.
On the increasing national debt, Bishop said it was a problem of spending, not the GOP’s recent tax cuts — an argument that was quickly rebutted by Democrat Lee Castillo.
“We cannot continue to bear the burden for our children, and our children’s children, because these people want to give the top 1 percent a tax break that doesn’t expire — but your middle class tax breaks do expire,” he said.
Both Castillo and Eliason face long odds in Utah’s 1st District, among the most conservative in the country, according to the Cook Partisan Political Report.
In a Salt Lake Tribune poll released on Wednesday, Bishop was shown with a more than 30-point lead over Castillo and Eliason.
Bishop, in his closing remarks, asked voters to allow him a swan song in Congress to continue working on issues for the district.
“I ask for your vote, you’ve been very kind to me [in] the past, one last time, because this will be my last term, and I want to be the leader of that team,” said Bishop.