The 1st Congressional District race literally is about the country’s direction. It’s shown by the campaign slogans of GOP Rep. Rob Bishop and his Democratic challenger, Donna McAleer.
Her slogan: “Not left. Not right. Forward.”
Bishop’s slogan: “Right on the issues. Right where we need him.”
Bishop celebrates being on the right as a conservative. He says that’s what his district wants and that it allows him to work with House majority Republicans to move issues. McAleer says he is extreme and contributes to divisive politics and stalemates. She adds that she can work with both parties to move the country forward.
“Right now, Washington thrives on divisiveness,” McAleer says. “I think he is part of that divisiveness, the gridlock, the obstructionism, the partisanship. That’s demonstrated in a voting record where you constantly vote with the majority. That’s no compromise. That’s no dialogue.”
As a graduate of West Point (and president of her class there) and a former U.S. Army officer, she says she is used to seeing the military “rally around the mission” with people of different opinions and backgrounds — and helped rally others as a global technology business executive, as leader of a Park City nonprofit health clinic and as one of the country’s top bobsled athletes. She wants to help Congress do it, too.
Bishop sees it differently.
“Utah is a conservative state, and I think I represent that point of view as well as anyone possibly could. I think I’m where my constituents are, and I am in some positions where I can effectively use that,” including as a member of the powerful Rules Committee, which determines what bills are debated, and as chairman of a House subcommittee overseeing public lands.
“The House of Representatives more than anything else is a team sport,” he says, adding that he is in the center philosophically of the majority party. “When you’re with the majority of the majority, you can actually move things. That’s exactly where I am. That has its advantages.”
Bishop, a former high school history teacher, says he likes to learn from history. He lives in an early 1900s “Victorian eclectic” home in Brigham City, which is full of antique furniture connected to stories from his family history. In an interview, he even wears a T-shirt that says, “Very Old Navy,” instead of Old Navy, and it pictures a Viking ship.
He says people who complain about divisiveness in Congress need to take a wider view.
“I look back at the history of the House, and there has never been a whole lot of comity and friendliness. You look back at some of the things that have happened in Congress, and it makes us look like a bunch of little wimps who are having a camp-out together.”
He says history — plus experience from five terms in Congress and 16 years in the state Legislature, including serving as the Utah House speaker — teaches that it pays to operate from a position of power within the majority party.
He recounts how, during his second term, the Utah delegation was having trouble getting appropriators to talk about language it worried could help create a new nuclear waste storage site in Skull Valley. But he was then — as he is again now — on the Rules Committee. So an appropriations subcommittee chairman, whose staff had been avoiding him, could not escape facing Bishop there.
“There are no time limits on that committee,” and Bishop questioned that chairman at length about an issue he did not realize was a problem until Bishop was holding up his bill. He soon agreed to make more fixes than Bishop says he believed were possible.
McAleer says she bases her plans not so much on the history of Congress or power but on ideals.
“I seek an opportunity to serve this county very much because I believe in democracy and the freedoms that we value and uphold,” she says. “I take inspiration in creating a great future and making things better.”
Her mother immigrated through Ellis Island after fleeing with her parents from Hungary in 1944, just before the Soviets invaded. Her father is second-generation Italian, and his grandparents “left the poverty of southern Italy to make a new life in this country.”
She says that made her want to attend West Point, and give back — and learn leadership. She says she wants to help form a new generation of leaders “who will put service and doing what’s right for Utah and our nation above personal interest and gain.”
Both McAleer and Bishop see public lands and protection of Hill Air Force Base as key issues — and each has differing views on how to proceed with them.
On lands, Bishop says he plans to use his chairmanship on the public lands subcommittee to try some bold proposals on wilderness next year “that may surprise some people” that “would give everyone something they want and just move things forward.”
That might create more wilderness in what he says are worthy areas as long as development and access are allowed in others — and maybe trade to Utah some developable lands to help support its schools.
McAleer says Bishop should have used his position to do that before now and that his record “hasn’t indicated a willingness to compromise.” She adds, “He’s spoken repeatedly about his desire to sue the federal government to take back those lands, to privatize them” and supports laws from the Utah Legislature to do so.
Meanwhile, she says, “We have got to recognize the natural resources we have in this state. And one of those is our iconic wilderness and our landscape, and what it brings to our state in terms of tourism, in terms of jobs, and in terms of businesses” — especially the outdoor products industry based here.
On Hill Air Force Base, Bishop says his place of seniority on the Armed Services Committee is being reserved while he is on leave to serve on Rules. He says he is senior enough to claim a subcommittee chairmanship there if he chooses.
“That does make a difference for being able to protect the future of Hill,” he says.
But McAleer is unimpressed with Bishop’s track record on the base.
“Under his tenure in Washington, Hill’s been downgraded from a two-star command to a one-star command. It’s a pretty significant issue.”
As a former Army officer and West Point graduate, she says she can work with the military to stress Hill’s importance and unique assets, such as the Utah Test and Training Range. “I know the language. I understand the relationships. I understand the importance of defense and national security. I’ve worn the uniform.”
Bishop notes some other differences he has with his challenger. “There will always be social issues. Abortion will always be an issue,” said Bishop, who is anti-abortion and also opposes gay marriage.
McAleer supports gay marriage and abortion rights, but says it may not hurt that much even in conservative Utah. “I have yet to be asked by a voter about gay marriage,” even when talking to gay voters or groups, she says. “It is low on the list of voter concerns.”
She says beliefs in Utah on those topics are evolving. She noted that a February poll by the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University found that 43 percent of Utahns support recognizing civil unions between gays, and 28 percent support gay marriages.
1st Congressional District
Rep. Rob Bishop:
• Served five terms in Congress.
• Serves on the powerful House Rules Committee.
• Chairman, House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
• Temporarily on leave from the Armed Services Committee, while he serves on rules.
• Served 16 years in the Utah Legislature, including as House speaker.
• Former high school history teacher.
• President of her class at West Point, served as a 2nd lieutenant in Germany.
• MBA from the University of Virginia.
• Led global division of GenRad, a technology company.
• Finished fourth in U.S. Olympic bobsled trials in 2002.
• Former executive director of People’s Health Clinic in Park City.
• Author of book, “Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line.”