As part of KUER's ongoing series of congressional candidate profiles, Nicole Nixon spoke with Rep. John Curtis about net neutrality, public lands and whether Congressional Republicans can still claim to be fiscal conservatives.
Utah's 3rd District Congressman John Curtis won his seat last year in a special election to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Now Curtis, the former mayor of Provo, is seeking his first full term in the U.S. House. The freshman Congressman faces three challengers in the November election: Democrat James Singer, the United Utah Party’s Tim Zeidner and Gregory Duerden of the Independent American Party.
Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Nicole Nixon: You have been in office for just over 10 months. Why should your constituents give you a full term in the U.S. House?
Rep. John Curtis: Great question. I think we have worked extremely hard in these 10 months to lay down a track record of getting things done and constituent outreach that really exceeds what constituents are used to and I think is something that is a good reason to ask for re-election.
N: I want to ask about net neutrality. You and other Republicans have generally been in favor of cutting regulation, but do you think that there is a time and place for regulations, especially for something like the Internet?
C: I get more emails and letters on net neutrality than all other issues combined — and my colleagues don't. I think it's because this is the youngest district in the United States. Our average age is 26. So it's very important for me to understand net neutrality and I've spent a considerable amount of time on it.
I want people to know that I absolutely agree with the principles of net neutrality, and will fight to keep net neutrality, and that there is appropriate amount of government regulation to help us achieve that. And the real debate ahead of us and the real question is how much regulation and what type of regulation to make sure that we're ensuring net neutrality.
N: You hold a lot of town halls. How have these been valuable to you, and have they changed your thinking in any way?
C: They are extremely valuable, and actually, net neutrality is a good example. I started in a very traditional Republican position of no regulation. I had a net neutrality town hall meeting that was specifically for the topic of net neutrality. I had a 100 Millennials come. They were passionate and well-informed and actually helped me shape my opinion on net neutrality.
N: Have you met with many people in rural parts of the state, particularly Native [American] voters?
C: Yes, I've actually been down to the Navajo reservation three times. The first time I went down to the Navajo reservation they said ‘You're the first U.S. congressman that's ever been to this spot on our reservation.’
There are a lot of issues — some that we're making good progress on. We just passed last week a rural broadband permitting bill and it was endorsed by the Navajo Nation. I was really pleased to be partners with them on that. That will help expedite getting broadband into the rural parts of our district. That's an example of where we're really working in harmony with the Native Americans. We have a bill in right now for Emery County and some of the tribes support it and some don't.
N: I wanted to ask about that bill. This would create a new Jurassic National Monument where Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is and would establish a conservation area at the San Rafael Swell. How do you respond to the criticisms that the bill is too much of a giveaway and it would strip protections from other lands?
C: Anybody that makes those [arguments] clearly doesn't understand the bill. It's one of the best things that we could do as a state. It puts a million acres into conservation. Some of that is moving from wilderness study into wilderness; some of it is just into a conservation area.
It's a rare bill because it has groups from all sides — with ranchers, environmentalists, off-road enthusiasts — who've come together. And unless you're on the extremes: I will be the first to admit that those on the extremes are not supporting the bill. Some come into this with a winner take all philosophy which is, ‘Unless I get everything I want, you get nothing.’ And as a result, they don't get anything either. And there are some on the extremes who are criticizing this bill, but it's a good bill. It's good for the state. It's good for the economy there. It's good for conservation. It's a really good bill.
N: Can Republicans call themselves fiscal conservatives when they pass bills like the Omnibus that suspend the debt limit?
C: I don't mind telling you that one of my biggest disappointments in the 10 months I've been in Congress is watching us pass that bill. I voted against it. And I struggle with it. You're right. It's a fair criticism. And I think we need to get our house in order.
N: But didn't you vote for the Tax and Jobs Act, which added more than $1 trillion to the deficit? Can you have it both ways?
C: Absolutely, yes. Let me tell you why. When we when we did that, the growth rate in the country was under 3 percent and had been for years. We're already trending at 4 [percent]. The [Tax and Jobs] Act will do amazing things for our economy. It’s a short-term hit on the deficit — that's actually correct. Give it time and actually will improve the deficit. We're seeing dramatic impacts of that all around the country. I think even my colleagues were surprised with how quickly we saw companies like Apple and these other major corporations do several things: repatriate dollars back into the United States, invest in capital and also increase jobs in the United States. Those are all really good things.
N: How would you grade President Trump halfway through his first term?
C: I don't mind telling you that President Trump makes my job difficult. There are things that I support. I support what's happening with the economy. I support the Supreme Court nominations. There are things I don't support. I'm not a fan of tariffs and I've been pretty vocal about that. So for me it's been a very, very, very important that when the president is moving agenda items forward and then acting in a way that is in harmony with the 3rd District, he'll see me there supporting him. When he's advancing either policy or behavior that's not in harmony with the Third District, I'll speak out and my constituents can count on me being there to represent them.