In what he says would be his final term, Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop wants to serve as a leader on the “team” of Utah’s congressional delegation.
“I want to be back there on that team so we can support the Second Amendment, so we can support Hill Air Force Base … so we can push through initiatives that are pro-life,” he said at the 1st District debate earlier this month, as he asked for voters’ support one last time.
The strong proponent of small government and states’ rights faces two contenders with different philosophies in November’s election, both of whom have worked to paint Bishop, seeking a ninth U.S. House term, as a career politician incapable of representing Utah’s interests on Capitol Hill.
Democrat Lee Castillo, a social worker with a populist message, calls people his “special interest” and has criticized his GOP opponent for taking campaign donations from oil and gas lobbyists.
“I want to make sure that people are put as my priority,” he said at the debate. “I will fight for Utahns of all colors and religions. I just want to reiterate: I believe Utah is for everybody.”
United Utah Party candidate Eric Eliason, a Logan businessman, has portrayed himself as an independent centrist who would work to bridge partisan lines.
“It’s time we see differences of opinions as strengths rather than weaknesses,” he said at the debate. “I think it’s time that we seek to understand all sides of the issue and it’s time to embrace the truth wherever we might find it. We need to explore areas of agreement as opposed to areas of disagreement.”
Bishop appears best positioned to win the race, according to a recent Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. That survey showed about 52 percent of voters favoring the incumbent — a 32-point lead over Castillo. Eliason generated about 10 percent of support from respondents.
At the debate, the candidates talked about their views on immigration and border control, tariffs and civility. Here’s where they stand on climate change, the president and reproductive health rights.
A report from the United Nations’ scientific panel released earlier this month describes consequences from climate change occurring much sooner than previously thought — with worsening food shortages and wildfires, a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 and intensifying droughts and poverty.
Bishop told The Tribune that climate change “is caused by everything," including the burning of fossil fuels.
He advocated for states to lead out on addressing the issue. While he said there are multiple routes they could take, the one he’s most interested in is called carbon grazing sequestration, which involves the short-term removal of animals from pastures after rain to enter the landscape via photosynthesis.
“You could probably solve most of our carbon sequestration problem simply by enforcing and pushing grazing activities,” he said, noting that while the Department of Interior is skeptical of the solution, the data he’s seen from other countries who have done it are “very intriguing.”
Eliason criticized Bishop at the debate for failing to acknowledge climate change until 2017. In contrast, the United Utah candidate said he believes it’s real and is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. He argued that the United States needs to take leadership on the issue — perhaps by imposing a carbon tax — and said global temperature changes are already affecting crop turnout and worsening wildfires locally.
Bishop "says we’ve got to weigh the social cost of climate change with the economic and everything,” Eliason said. “We rely on water here, and we’ve got droughts. So you get one crop of hay down in the Fairview area. When does that economic value get factored in?”
Castillo said there’s “no doubt” in his mind that climate change is human-caused. He criticized Bishop for taking money from oil and gas companies and advocated for a congressional approach to the issue that would incentivize both individuals and businesses to be more green.
“It’s time that we start incentivizing these companies to begin utilizing or producing green energy,” he said. “We should be incentivizing homes that want to become producers of solar energy and that, you know, reduces our carbon footprint for sure.”
Bishop said he doesn’t “have a window” into President Donald Trump’s heart and couldn’t say whether he’s an honest man.
But when it comes to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible improper involvement from the Trump campaign, Bishop said he supports the inquiry moving forward.
“I’d like to see it come to a conclusion,” he said. “We have started the process. Let the process work itself out, see what the conclusions are.”
Eliason said he believes Trump is “unfit for the job” of president and worries about his “divisive” rhetoric.
“One of the concerns I had is quite often five [members] of Utah’s delegation to D.C. would call the president out on different things, and Rob Bishop was repetitively the one who wouldn’t,” he said.
Eliason would like to see more civility and fiscal responsibility from the Trump administration but said the president has rightly articulated the pharmaceutical industry’s role in soaring health care costs.
Castillo praised the president’s tax break for the middle class but criticized his “attacks” on certain groups, like women, Latinos, Muslims and veterans.
“As a congressman, it would be my job to reassure the people in my community that they are supported and cared for and somebody’s out there looking out for them,” he said. “When our president or anybody in the administration attacks groups of people in a divisive manner, it’s the responsibility of the representatives to say, ‘Hey, those people are in my community and those people are productive members of my community.’”
With a solid conservative majority now on the Supreme Court, conservatives have hoped — and liberals have dreaded — that Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide, would be overturned.
Bishop says “it’s time to look at [the case] again,” and suggested the precedent should be “reformed in some way” by the court.
If that happened, he said, he would support efforts in Utah to restrict abortion to “rape, incest [and] life of the mother” but noted that he’s “never been one who has said there can be no abortions whatsoever.”
Eliason said he views Roe v. Wade as “the law of the land” and would not support efforts to overturn the case, though he considers himself “pro-life.”
“I think we’re all anti-abortion,” he said. “I think I can be pro-life and try to do it in a different way.”
That might include, he said, providing support for single mothers to make it more economically feasible for them to keep a child.
Castillo said he also views Roe v. Wade as settled law. As a Christian, he doesn’t believe in abortion but said he “100 percent” supports a woman’s right to choose.
“I’m not a woman, and I am not willing to force my religion on anybody else,” he said, arguing that government shouldn’t regulate women’s bodies. “I believe [women] have the knowledge and the capability and the wisdom, sometimes even way more than men, most times more than men, to do what’s right for their lives.”