Jake Hunsaker sees Rep. Burgess Owens as part of the problem within the Republican Party.
He believes Owens and many other officeholders push extreme views, largely to raise campaign funds, and in the process alienate fellow conservatives, along with the rest of the nation.
Hunsaker worries that too many favor political expediency over sticking to their moral compass. He’s frustrated that too few see their congressional service as a chance to solve problems, and instead vote as party leaders tell them.
On Tuesday, this Republican from Riverton announced his campaign to unseat Owens, who is in his first term. He is the first announced challenger in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.
“We are right now on the receiving end of a massive dumbing down of politics and of American policy. And that’s not what voters want, is not what voters need,” he said. “And it’s certainly not conducive to representation that’s fruitful and productive. And that’s why I am running against Burgess Owens.”
The 32-year-old Hunsaker works for Google and has no experience in Utah political circles. He attended Brigham Young University, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and has spent the bulk of his career working for Goldman Sachs and Google.
He calls himself a “‘90s Republican,” someone who looked up to President Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as leaders who sought to spread democracy abroad and widen the party’s appeal at home.
After President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in 2020, Hunsaker said, “I’m not sure that there is a clear leader of the Republican Party.”
He said his party is in the middle of an “identity crisis,” and he’s running to counter what he sees as Owens’ and Trump’s embrace of divisiveness.
Owens’ campaign has not responded to a request for comment. The freshman representative sent a tweet welcoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to Utah. The House GOP leader often travels to meet with Republicans and help raise campaign money.
While Hunsaker praised Trump’s constructive conservative stances on issues ranging from Middle East peace to a revamped trade deal with Mexico and Canada, he said the former president’s “rhetoric contributed to an extreme polarization of the country, and a lot of people feel like they didn’t have a real home because they don’t view politics in derogatory terms and soundbites, and in alienating comments.”
Hunsaker isn’t laying the party’s “identity crisis” solely at the feet of Trump. He blames a media bent toward sensationalism. He blames politicians who have lost touch with voters as they seek to keep their seats. He blames misinformation that has eroded voter engagement.
What he said he’d do if elected is seek to address the big issues head-on and apply a consistent conservative philosophy to solutions, while attempting to include more people than those who are already in agreement. He considers the debate over a border wall as an example. Hunsaker said a border wall along the U.S. boundary with Mexico makes sense and that he believes more Americans would agree with that if Republicans didn’t use highly charged language in pushing for it.
“We packaged it in problematic messaging,” he said, “that immediately made it a nonstarter for many voters who would otherwise agree with our positioning on geographic border security.”
He criticized Owens’ response to the conservative uproar over critical race theory, an academic study of systemic racism in the nation’s institutions. Hunsaker said he believes it shouldn’t be taught in Utah’s schools — it is not — but he takes issue with Owens’ response in Congress.
“To take it to Washington and try to legislate on a federal level an educational issue that our conservatism tells us needs to be a state issue,” he said, “is counterintuitive to what we really say we believe.”
He also argued that success or failure can’t be absolute, that the goal of Congress is to find bipartisan solutions. He praised the work that went into the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that the Senate passed Tuesday. Hunsaker said he hasn’t formulated an opinion on that measure yet but added that he comes to it with an “open mind.”
“This type of a product is something that Congress was designed to create,” he said.
If elected, Hunsaker said, he’d want to focus on the rapidly changing world of Big Tech, including privacy issues, and on climate change.
“That has nothing to do with my conservatism,” he said, “and it has everything to do with the idea that we need to be good stewards of this planet.”
Owens won the 4th District in 2020, narrowly defeating Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams. It is possible that McAdams runs again, though that may depend on how the district changes during the once-in-a-decade redistricting process that will start in the next few weeks.
For his part, Hunsaker lives in the 4th District as it is currently constituted.