Burgess Owens ducks out of pre-primary debates

His primary opponent, Jake Hunsaker, says Owens is focused on his celebrity instead of doing his job.

Fourth Congressional District incumbent Republican Burgess Owens will not participate in any debates ahead of next month’s primary election.

Utah GOP chairman Carson Jorgensen confirmed Friday that Owens’ campaign had declined the group’s requests for a debate ahead of the primary.

“His campaign has declined requests for a debate,” Jorgensen said in a text message Friday afternoon.

The Utah GOP is hosting three pre-primary debates for U.S. Senate and House Districts 2 and 3.

Owens’ campaign has not given a firm commitment or denial for his participation in the Utah Debate Commission’s event scheduled for June 1. A spokesperson for the Debate Commission says they have been in contact with Owens’ campaign and are hopeful he will still participate.

News of Owens’ skipping the debates was met with harsh criticism from Jake Hunsaker, his opponent on the primary election ballot.

“By refusing to debate, my opponent not only betrays the foundational principles of our republic but also shows his disdain for and mistrust of his own constituents and their ability to make good, informed decisions on Election Day,” Hunsaker said in a press release.

Hunsaker hammered Owens for focusing on his celebrity rather than his constituents in a follow-up conversation.

“Owens has been absent from Utah since the day he took office. He’s afraid of tough questions. Only four town halls, 80% out-of-state funding, exclusive focus on his countless Fox News appearances,” Hunsaker said. “This is someone who thinks politics is a celebrity entertainment game and doesn’t care about voters.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jake Hunsaker, a candidate for the 4th Congressional District, speaks with delegates at the Utah Republican Party nominating convention, Saturday, April 23, 2022 in Sandy.

Owens soundly defeated Hunsaker among Republican delegates at the state convention, 561 (69%) to 261 (31%).

Hunsaker says there are two other possible debates in the works, one sponsored by Mormon Women for Ethical Government and the other by a local media outlet. It’s unclear whether Owens will accept invitations to participate in either.

Owens is seeking his second term in office after narrowly defeating Democrat Ben McAdams by 3,765 votes in 2020. Two years ago, he won the GOP nomination in a four-way primary contest with 43.5% of the vote after finishing second to Kim Coleman at the state convention.

The Utah Republican Party decided to host its series of debates for the primaries after the Utah Debate Commission rebuffed the party’s requests to help choose topics and moderators. The House District 3 debate between incumbent John Curtis and challenger Chris Herrod is Friday night at BYU. Rep. Chris Stewart debates Erin Rider on KNRS radio Tuesday evening, and the party’s three-way U.S. Senate forum with Mike Lee, Becky Edwards and Ally Isom is on June 1.

Rep. Blake Moore is the only incumbent scheduled to take part in the Utah Debate Commission event on June 2.