Doug Owens takes the fight to Mia Love in first joint event
Mia Love joined hundreds of Utahns in South Jordan on a sunny Saturday last November and showered Sen. Mike Lee in more than 10 minutes of applause. Lee supporters created the public spectacle to show that Utah's firebrand senator still had plenty of backing after his attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act led to a partial government shutdown.
That's the image Democrat Doug Owens wants people to keep in mind as he tries to whittle away at Love, the perceived front-runner in the 4th Congressional District race. The winner will replace Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who declined to run again.
"It is very easy for a politician to just forget the past and just represent themselves as all sweetness and light, and I think we need to understand whatthe record is," Owens said after his first joint appearance with Love, at the Utah Taxpayers Association conference Tuesday. "If you think the shutdown was a good idea, she's your person. If you think the shutdown was a bad idea, I'm your person."
In the quasi-debate, where candidates received the six questions in advance, Owens went on the attack repeatedly, first on the shutdown, then on other issues ranging from her call to eliminate the Department of Education to her desire to have the federal government hand over control of public lands to the state.
Love, the former mayor of Saratoga Springs, stuck to her campaign themes of limited government and addressing kitchen-table concerns from health care to taxes. She didn't return fire directly, though she did sarcastically say that she was "flattered" by how many times Owens mentioned her name in the 45-minute back-and-forth.
After the event, she huddled with her campaign team for a few minutes before addressing a crowd of TV, radio and print reporters who focused on Owens' aggressive charges and her stand on the shutdown.
She said "a good indicator of somebody who doesn't have the qualifications to do the job" is when "the only thing they can do is actually attack the other person."
Love promised to remain on the high road.
"We need to make sure we are willing to work with others," she said, "and not take a two-by-four and beat each other on the head."
When it came to last fall's 16-day government shutdown, she lined up with two fellow Utah Republicans, Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, supporting stripping funding from Obamacare but keeping the government open. In doing so, she distanced herself from Lee, the star of that November rally.
"I stood out there with over 2,000 people in South Jordan," she said. "That's who I was standing with."
Love and Owens had some areas of agreement. They both want to reduce the corporate-tax rate and support a broad tax reform that would lower rates, though Owens, an attorney by profession, wants to tax all income, investment and wages, at the same rate.
They had vastly different views on control of public lands, an issue that has flared throughout the West after a standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
"I believe Utahns are better equipped to manage Utah lands, quite simply," Love said, tying herself to the campaign led by state Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.
Owens is the son of the late Rep. Wayne Owens, who grew up on a ranch. He argued there was no "realistic chance" that Utah would ever get control of these vast public lands, nor should it. The federal government pays about $300 million per year to maintain the national parks.
"We are on a gravy train," he said, "and I think we should stay there."
They also clashed on the federal role in education, with Owens accusing Love of trying to reduce funding for special education by eliminating the Department of Education. He also criticized her for supporting elimination of federally subsidized student loans for college students.
"Mia Love and I couldn't be further apart on this issue," he said.
Love believes federal student loans are part of the reason tuition continues to rise, and she says communities can best handle students with special needs.
"I want to return as much control to the local level as possible," she said.
Owens' strategy to paint Love as an extreme candidate mirrors that of Matheson, who edged her by less than 800 votes in 2012. Matheson has declined to seek an eighth House term and is considering a possible run for Senate or governor in 2016.
Utah's 4th District, which includes the west half of Salt Lake County and Utah County, skews conservative. On top of that, Love is more widely known and has far more campaign funds. She's already a rising political star and if she wins, she'd be the first black Republican woman elected to Congress.
Owens, a first-time candidate, promised to keep the pressure on Love, saying he's not going to attack her personally but will keep attacking her positions.