Tribune editorial: Ghorbani will do more for Utah and less for Trump

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Second District candidate Shireen Ghorbani, passes out buttons to her supporters before knocking on doors in Tooele, Saturday, July 7, 2018.

He once called him “our Mussolini,” but Chris Stewart has learned to love President Trump. That has made it harder for Utahns in the 2nd Congressional District to love Chris Stewart.

No Utahn in the U.S. House of Representatives has been more Trump-friendly over the past two years. Stewart was all in on the House Intelligence Committee’s highly politicized “investigation” of Russian meddling in our elections and Chairman Devin Nunes’ repeated attempts to turn it into an investigation of the FBI for being too Democrat-friendly. As a member of the committee, Stewart was reluctant to even admit the Russians wanted Trump to win.

Stewart also was quick to speak up to say the president is “not a Russian stooge” after Trump sheepishly stood in front of Vladimir Putin and said he accepted Putin’s denial of interference in U.S. affairs. Stewart even went so far as to say “I love this president” once, although later he said he was merely joking, like he was with his Mussolini line. We guess you had to be there.

Stewart is the only person ever elected in the 2nd District as it is currently gerrymandered. It was built to be bulletproof for a Republican. He has consistently been re-elected despite never winning in the biggest city in the district, Salt Lake City, and despite a high percentage of constituents not knowing who he is. His built-in electoral advantage has insulated him.

Shireen Ghorbani is harder to forget. She is a political neophyte, but she isn’t naive. She also is more practical than ideological. She got in as a one-issue candidate (health care), but she has sophisticated understanding of a wide range of issues. She works in communications at the University of Utah and is chair of the Rape Recovery Center board in Salt Lake City. Her father is from Iran, and if elected she would be the first Iranian American in Congress.

On health care, it’s personal. Ghorbani’s mother died of cancer two years ago, and she watched her family deal with the financial aftermath. Then she saw that her congressman, Stewart, had voted more than 40 times to kill the Affordable Care Act without having any viable replacement.

She also saw Stewart breaking from his constituents on immigration. While Utah has noticeably taken a more welcoming attitude than other red states, Stewart remains a hardliner in the Trump tradition, noting on his campaign website that “illegal immigrants living in the United States should not be allowed to hold citizenship in this country until returning to their home countries and following established U.S. immigration procedures.”

Whatever the eventual solution to undocumented immigrants is, it won’t be that.

And on public lands, Ghorbani goes right to economics, questioning whether the president’s gutting of two national monuments, with the encouragement of Stewart and others, was a sound financial move for rural Utahns. She also laments that it triggered the exit of the Outdoor Retailer convention and all that it represented for Utah’s economic diversity.

Stewart, a former fighter pilot, has gone far by staying under the radar. We would say far enough. His opponent is anything but stealthy, and she is free of the baggage of an unpredictable and often indefensible president. Utahns in the 2nd District should move on with Ghorbani.