It was a lively forum for Democrat Doug Owens and his Republican challenger Mia Love, in the 4th Congressional District Debate. The rhetorical rumble saw slick soundbites, red-meat policy specifics, a surprise question about Edward Snowden and political jabs from both candidates.
The Candidates as Human Beings
Politicians are people too! At least that's what they want you to believe, and as is often the case in politics it can sometimes be the hardest sell a politico has to make. Owens and Love, however, had little trouble introducing themselves to voters as people with stories one could relate to.
Love talked of the lessons of fiscal discipline and responsibility she learned from her parents who migrated to America from Haiti “With only $10 in their pockets” and a belief in America. She also talked about the small-town wisdom she would bring to D.C. from her experience as mayor of Saratoga Springs that now enjoys the highest bond rating for a city its size.
“To me its not about moving to Washington its about moving Washington closer to the principles we live by here in Utah,” Love said.
Owens cited his background as a sixth generation Utahn, son of Congressman Wayne Owens, who served multiple terms as a Democrat in Congress for Utah. He also cited his 25-year career as an attorney defending Utah businesses, pointing out that there was a break in his career when he took two years off to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife completed her degree in pediatrics.
OK, now that the humanity is out of the way, lets get to the issues.
On this issue both candidates hit the right notes about wanting to promote local control over education standards.
Love challenged the standard as a federal attempt to strong arm local education's authority.
“I oppose Common Core because I believe we're being blackmailed with our own taxpayer dollars,” Love said.
Owens, however, cited a recent analysis by the Utah Attorney General's Office that in Utah “it was a locally agreed-to standard.” He did say that if it was a federal standard not supported by local authorities he would oppose it.
Education and Student Loans
Education was a sore spot for Love as Owens repeatedly made reference to claims Love had made in her earlier campaigns that she would eliminate the Department of Education and would support the end of student loan subsidies.
“I'm not satisfied that Utah is dead last in terms of per-pupil spending and I've got an opponent who will make that worse by eliminating the Department of Education,” Owens said. He also blasted her over her criticism of federal student loan subsidies noting they're taken advantage of by 80 percent of students in Utah.
Love fired back, however, that she did not want to eliminate student loans but did believe that federal subsidies were to blame for causing tuition rates to skyrocket past inflation. She argued that allowing the free market to allow for competition between schools would better help with the cost of tuition.
While Love also prefaced the debate by insisting she would attack “politics and not people” on the issue of student loans she did throw a not-so subtle jab to Owens.
“I've taken out student loans and I know the pain of paying them back,” Love said. “I'm not the daughter of a congressman—I doubt that many of us are—and I can tell you right now at this rate, higher education will only become available for the rich and the elite.”
Owens didn't acknowledge the “rich daddy” sleight but in speaking to the cost of college did support ideas like measures to allow high school students do extra work to have their senior year count as their first year of college.
The threat of the highly-organized terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL also entered the debate with the candidates being asked what would require them to support ground troops to fight the threat in the case that air strikes were unsuccessful.
Owens in this exchange said simply he would exercise caution and defer to military experts, Love, however, shifted into a very specific checklist: That any action be supported by Congress and not just the president; that there be a clear threat to American lives; that forces go in with a clear objective and lastly they go in with a clearly defined exit strategy.
Love drove the point home discussing meeting with the mother of a fallen soldier saying “I need to be able to look her in the eye and say your son did not die in vain, he went in for the right reasons and he will never be forgotten,” Love said.
Obamacare and the Shutdown
When asked if she supported the 2013 government shutdown Love sidestepped the question by saying “No but I supported the repeal of Obamacare,” despite the fact that the shutdown was predicated on defunding Obamacare or for that matter the fact that she appeared at a rally in support of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and his involvement in the shutdown.
On the issue of Obamacare itself Love called for repeal, saying states ought to be able to utilize free market reforms to replace the President's healthcare system.
Owens said Obamacare was “the law of the land” and shouldn't be repealed but that didn't mean it still couldn't be reformed. He took issue with how Obamacare was forcing business owners to cut employee hours to avoid high insurance costs.
“I strongly believe in decoupling health insurance from employment,” Owens said. “We've got to employ our people and we're the only western nation that does that,” Owens said.
To the Extreme
Owens took many opportunities to paint Love as a party extremist and oft repeated the line that his mandate wasn't to go to Washington and vote on ideology or part line but that he would look for compromise and reach across the aisle like his father Wayne Owens had done. He spoke of how his father had co-sponsred legislation with conservatives like Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah to provide compensation to “downwinders” in southern Utah who suffered health problems because of nuclear testing in the area.
Love, however, argued that what was “extreme” was the actions—or inactions—of Congress and the President in D.C and not her positions.
“I believe extreme is $17 trillion dollars in debt with no plan to fix it,” Love said. “Extreme is the rising cost of tuition and attacking your opponent for trying to find solutions. Utahns find these issues to be extreme and I agree.”
The candidates got a surprise question at the end of the debate about Edward Snowden whose leaked information in 2013 helped expose the massive surveillance efforts the National Security Agency had undertaken to spy on average citizens' phone and email records.
The candidates were asked if they thought of Snowden as a traitor or a hero—and while neither candidate was about to use those labels, the two did differ in their opinion.
“I don't want to use those harsh terms but the accusation is that he committed crimes against this country,” Owens said.
Love, however, sided with people's fears of Big Brother and expressed doubt about the accusations leveled against Snowden that his leaks endangered national security.
“I certainly hope that if Edward Snowden is just a whistleblower that we would be able to protect his rights and bring him back home,” Love said.
Visit the Utah Debate Commission
for archive audio and video of the debate as well as the other congressional debates and the Attorney General's race debate.
For more info you can visit Doug Owens' campaign site here
and Mia Love's site here