The most perplexing question lobbed at Rep. Chris Stewart on Friday night came from a middle-aged woman who first scolded the audience for being too loud.
At the microphone in West High School’s auditorium where more than 1,000 people had packed, the questioner said she was unable to hear Stewart’s answers in their entirety due to the crowd noise.
Then she cited an early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ prophet and Utah founding father.
“In 1860, Brigham Young instructed his people, ‘Keep your valley pure. Keep your towns as pure as possible,’” she said. A few sidebar comments later, she laid out her question: “In 2017, our valley is not pure. So my question is, how can you ensure to keep Brigham Young’s request?”
At the contentious town hall, Stewart didn’t shy away from questions about public lands, health care or controversies surrounding President Donald Trump, but he wasn’t going to touch the one surrounding purity or Brigham Young.
The crowd responding in kind with groans and giggles and shouts about the separation of church and state.
Sobbing, the woman returned to the mic half-hour later and clarified that she had worded the question poorly, but what she meant to ask about was the environment. The crowd gave her a good cheer, and someone from the audience embraced the woman in a tight hug.
There you have it: a single moment of reconciliation in an otherwise combative room.
Though perhaps not as disruptive as a town hall for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in February, Stewart was on the receiving end boos and heckles, the first of which came 11 seconds after he stepped to the podium when someone from the back shouted, “Corporate shill!”
Stewart, who won re-election in 2016 with 61 percent of the vote, acknowledged that his approval rating was likely low among his Salt Lake County constituents, the majority of whom voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I was talking to someone and saying we were going to do [a town hall] and he asked why I would do this,” he explained. “It’s my job.”
During questioning, Stewart said he favored protecting Bears Ears with the Public Lands Initiative instead of a national monument designation. He said a congressional committee uncovered evidence of malfeasance by Trump or his staff that should be passed on to the FBI. He stated his support for the failed American Health Care Act, which would leave an estimated 24 million Americans without insurance, because the alternative is Obamacare, which he sees as a more injurious policy.
When asked about his position on immigration and building Trump’s border wall, Stewart said he favored giving undocumented immigrants a path toward legal status, though not citizenship.
“Do I support securing our border?" he added. “I do support it.”
Stewart also clarified his support for a provision that many believe would have defanged an independent ethics panel.
“The only thing we asked is that if someone makes an accusation they have the guts to stand up and face the accused,” he said.
Shawn Milne, a Tooele County Commissioner, was one of the few Stewart supporters in the auditorium. His question morphed into “more of a thank you” for the congressman’s stance on wild horse management and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.
After about an hour of questions, Stewart left to a chorus of “Do your job! Do your job!”