Provo Mayor John Curtis, the Republican vying for Utah’s vacant congressional seat, has deleted the Facebook post where he responded to criticisms and explained why his campaign ran two controversial ads on illegal immigration last week.

“The post was removed as part of a larger plan to address this and many other issues that matter to voters of the district,” said his spokesman, Danny Laub, in an emailed statement. “We will soon launch a new and improved website that should further clarify this and many other key issues.”

The ads — one exhorting Congress to “build the wall” and the other calling to “stop sanctuary cities” — were quickly attacked as hostile and Trump-like. Curtis took them down and suggested in his now-erased response that his “team underestimated how contentious” the rhetoric was.

“I’ve always been an advocate of not using divisive words … ” he wrote Sept. 24. “This is a good lesson to me that the world of 140 characters leaves too much question about intent.”

The GOP candidate (and front-runner) in the race to replace former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who stepped down in June, has been billed as a moderate candidate and was criticized in the primary for not being conservative enough. The ads, though, seem to play off of some far-right phrases now-President Donald Trump used during his presidential campaign.

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Candidate John Curtis speaks at the Republican Special Convention for Utah Congressional District 3 to choose the candidate to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz, held at Timpview High School, Saturday, June 17, 2017.

Curtis didn’t vote for Trump, and his spokesman said the mayor’s platform has remained the same.

“I want to be clear that John’s immigration position has never changed or wavered, and he has repeated it publicly numerous times at forums, debates and town halls across the district,” Laub noted. “Those who question John’s stance need only look at his unmatched record as Provo mayor of bringing people together and working through tough issues.”

Laub has said the ads were a mistake by the vendor and not approved of by Curtis. The cost to run the promotions — which were part of a series that also included posts about tax reform — is not included on the mayor’s most recent financial disclosure, and Laub declined to say how much the campaign spent.

Now the mayor’s most recent posts are about the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the Provo Recreation Center bond.

The Salt Lake Tribune first saw and later verified the ads through several screenshots shared online.

In his 500-word reaction to the subsequent criticisms, Curtis listed his ideas for immigration reform. He proposed securing the border between the United States and Mexico while more strictly enforcing the law.

“If the best idea to protect our country is a wall then I will wholeheartedly support it,” he wrote.

A screenshot of John Curtis' campaign ad shared with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Additionally, as he has in the past, the mayor condemned sanctuary cities — places where municipal governments have pledged limited cooperation with federal authorities on enforcing immigration policies — saying they are “an extreme.”

“If we were to look at a continuum, we would see sanctuary cities on one end flanked by rounding up illegals and sending them back on buses on the other side,” he added. “Neither is the right approach.”

Provo was considered a sanctuary city when Curtis took office eight years ago, he said, but that designation has since been lifted.

Many commenters responding to Curtis’ public post said they were “disappointed” by the mayor’s ads. A few called the mayor “insensitive” and said they no longer planned to vote for him. Some said they appreciated his acknowledgement that the messages were problematic.

His competitors in the Nov. 7 general election — including Democrat Kathie Allen and the United Utah Party’s Jim Bennett — were quick to condemn the ads.

Allen said the mayor “wants to close our doors and our hearts to immigrants and refugees” while Bennett said Curtis was “embracing one of the president’s most extreme proposals.”

Curtis has polled strongly in the race — where registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats nearly six to one in the reliably red 3rd Congressional District — outpacing Allen in the most recent survey by more than 37 percentage points.

The mayor, at 54 percent, also towered over Bennett, son of the late three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, who fetched 6 percent in the mid-September survey.

The three candidates will spar during the Utah Debate Commission’s Oct. 18 showdown and will join Libertarian candidate Joe Buchman in a debate Friday in Sandy.


A copy of Curtis’ since-deleted Facebook response (posted Sept. 24):

My recent Facebook post about building the wall has rightly caught many people off guard. I’ve always been an advocate of not using divisive words and it’s clear that our team underestimated how contentious “The Wall” was. This is a good lesson to me that the world of 140 characters leaves too much question about intent. I’d like to take this opportunity to better explain my position on immigration.

There is no question that our immigration is broken. We need to stop making this a Democrat vs Republican issue and get serious about solving the problem. Immigrants contribute significantly to our economy and reforming our immigration system will help strengthen America.

The American Action Forum estimates that immigration reform will boost per capita income by $1,700 over 10 years and reduce the federal deficit by $2.7 trillion. I believe we can do four things to guide our efforts:

First and foremost, we need to secure the border. Our country and national security are in jeopardy each and every day we do not have a secure border. I would like to see swift, strategic and innovative ideas to secure the border and enforce the law. If the best idea to protect our country is a wall then I will wholeheartedly support it.

Second, we need to be tough on those that commit multiple or serious crimes. I think we can all agree that there is no place in our home for those who cause serious harm to others.

Third, we should make it easier for people to immigrate who will come here to be self-sufficient, to help build our economy, to assimilate and become loyal, productive Americans.

Fourth, we need to give people a chance to get right with the law. I call this restitution. It’s a common term in our culture. It’s an important principle that says that every wrong need to be made right and that to cost to make it right is in proportion to the wrong that was committed. We must always uphold the rule of law and be fair to those who followed it. To be clear this is not, nor do I believe in amnesty. I believe this is consistent with Utah’s values.

Lastly, I believe sanctuary cites hurt our efforts at achieving meaningful immigration reform.

Few people realize that when I started as Provo’s Mayor we were considered a sanctuary city. The reason I don’t support the idea of a sanctuary city is that it is an extreme. If we were to look at a continuum we would see sanctuary cities on one end flanked by rounding up all illegals and sending them back on buses on the other side. Neither is the right approach. We can’t continue to pretend we don’t have a problem and we do those who have come illegally more than to turn our heads and not solve the problem.

It’s imperative we figure out how to discuss this subject with diverse opinions without compromising our principles in order to achieve a lasting and permanent solution to our broken immigration system.