For the first time this campaign season, all five candidates for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District squared off during a debate Wednesday night.
The Democrat and Republican candidates did their best to take shots at each other in the Cedar City debate and leave the impression that it’s a two-person contest.
Republican Chris Stewart charged that Jay Seegmiller didn’t live in the district, making him unfit to truly understand the issues important to the voters. Seegmiller countered that he had lived in the district until the Utah Legislature carved him out of it this year when maps were redrawn to include a new fourth district. The Democrat said if he were elected, he would move into the district.
For 90 minutes, the candidates were questioned on a wide array of foreign and domestic policy issues — including balancing the federal budget.
Stewart has made that a central point in his campaign — calling for cuts and a balanced-budget amendment that caps federal spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product. Seegmiller also said he supported a balanced-budget amendment and that "everything is on the table" for possible spending reductions.
That’s where third party candidate Joe Andrade stepped in — arguing the two parties can’t agree on basic functions, let alone amending the Constitution.
"We don’t have time for a balanced-budget amendment," Andrade said. "An amendment to the Constitution takes an incredible amount of time."
To amend the Constitution, it takes two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress or a Constitutional Convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the states.
The debate, hosted by Utah Public Radio on the campus of Southern Utah University, was the first to be held in the southern portion of the district. The first question the candidates were asked to tackle was immigration and the Dream Act — legislation that grants children brought to the country illegally a pathway to citizenship.
Seegmiller said he supported the measure — originally co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch a decade ago — and he also backed Obama’s deferred action order that allows illegal immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 to get temporary work permits if they are attending school.
"I think it’s a positive step forward," Seegmiller said.
Stewart disagreed, calling Obama’s action a usurpation of congressional power. He also questioned the viability of the Dream Act.
"It does not represent the will of the people," Stewart said. "If it did, it would’ve passed through Congress."
The act failed in 2011 when it passed the House of Representatives, but narrowly failed to get the 60 votes needed to break cloture.
Both candidates hewed closely to their talking points on domestic issues, with Stewart repeating his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Seegmiller saying there were good parts to the legislation — covering pre-existing conditions and children — and that throwing it out entirely was irresponsible.
Charles Kimball, a third-party candidate, called the Affordable Care Act "laudable" and said it showed the nation was "willing to move forward" on health care.
Constitution Party candidate Jonathan Garrard also participated in the debate, repeatedly calling for less government regulation and saying his policies stemmed from one of his key influences — John Birch Society member and faith-based political conservative Cleon Skousen, who died in 2009.
Much of the debate was broadcast over the radio, but during the candidates’ closing arguments, Seegmiller and Andrade were the only ones who were heard when the feed from the station cut out. Utah Public Radio officials said the entirety of the debate could be heard Thursday morning on podcast at www.utahpublicradio.org.
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