A Draper political independent has stepped forward to challenge U.S. Rep. John Curtis with a message of restoring Bears Ears National Monument, ending reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating the dangers of artificial intelligence.

Russ Fugal — whose campaign slogan is “humanity elevated” — is a project and accounts manager for a factory automation company.

Although he once served as a delegate to the Utah Republican Party convention, his campaign for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District marks his first run for public office and was motivated by his long-standing passion for environmental justice.

"Climate change will affect all of us, but for some of us, it'll affect our pocketbooks more than our physical bodies," Fugal, 36, said in a phone interview. "And those who are least responsible for this change are some of those who are most affected by it."

While he’s not sold on imposing carbon taxes, Fugal argues that companies should not be allowed to profit from the extraction and importation of fossil fuels and advocates for a steep corporate tax rate on these businesses. He’s also in favor of restoring the Bears Ears National Monument as a step toward recognizing white appropriation of indigenous lands.

Preserving the monument land “goes a long ways toward healing in a country that does not like to recognize its genocidal past,” he said.

Fugal is also concerned about the way misinformation is spreading because of algorithms used by websites such as Facebook and YouTube. These platforms can amplify falsehoods about important issues ranging from vaccinations to climate change and should be held accountable, he contends.

"What we need to do is have that transparency of what is actually being selected and promoted to users algorithmically," he said.

Fugal said he’s lived in Utah on and off since 2000. He served a mission in Taiwan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and later spent time in Idaho and New York before his family landed back in Utah.

At various times, he’s identified as a Republican, Democrat, libertarian, socialist, capitalist, progressive and climate activist. His exploration of these different perspectives reflects his willingness to “question orthodoxy and interrogate ideology,” a trait he says he’s exhibited since young adulthood. And while he’s moved away from some of these affiliations, aspects of each remain with him, he said.

Fugal last year graduated from Salt Lake Community College with an associate degree and expects to complete a bachelor’s degree at the University of Utah next year.

He’s married with three young children.

Federal Election Commission records show Fugal is so far the only 2020 candidate to challenge Curtis, a Republican who was first elected to his congressional seat in a special election in 2017. The 3rd District has been represented by a Republican since 1997, when three-term Democrat Bill Orton was defeated by Republican Chris Cannon.