It’s hard to have a debate when only one person shows up.
But that’s exactly what 4th Congressional District candidate Jake Hunsaker did Tuesday after his opponent Rep. Burgess Owens declined to participate in the Utah Debate Commission’s primary debate.
The Republican incumbent has also not committed to participating in a GOP-sponsored debate ahead of the June 28 primary. The Utah Republican Party decided to host its own debates after its requests to influence the commission’s questions and moderators were rebuffed.
Owens’ spokesperson did not return The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment.
The winner of the primary will advance to the general election on Nov. 8.
Moderator Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, guided the hourlong “candidate conversation” that broached issues such as gun control, abortion rights and congressional term limits.
How Hunsaker says he differs from Owens
It didn’t take long for Hunsaker to acknowledge the “elephant that’s not in the room.”
“My opponent Burgess Owens is not here; he’s not present,” he said. “And he has a record of absenteeism in our district and in engagement with voters about a cohesive and proactive conservative vision.”
He also blasted the incumbent for the amount of funding he receives from outside of Utah and his partisan approach to politics.
“When I look, for example, at my opponent,” he said, “I see someone who doesn’t feel that his job is to represent his constituents or focus on local Utah issues but instead feels that this is exclusively a party sport.”
Hunsaker said, in contrast, he’d attended numerous city council meetings across the district to learn about his constituents’ needs and promised to be a federal voice that represented their interests in Washington.
Hunsaker’s three congressional goals
If elected, Hunsaker said he would focus primarily on three legislative tasks during his freshman term.
The first concerns the country’s economy and inflation. Hunsaker talked about cutting spending, passing a budget and restructuring mandatory spending programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, which “are suffocating our country’s ability to budget in any meaningful or effective way.”
His second goal was to address federal lands and local control. He would like to see Utah and its communities be allowed to dictate how their land is used and developed, without undue interference from the federal government.
“We are tied up in this federal bureaucracy that prohibits local impact on local issues,” he said.
Finally, he addressed congressional ethics reform, saying he would like to introduce legislation implementing congressional term limits and prohibiting lawmakers from trading individual stocks.
The Second Amendment, abortion rights and a Trump endorsement
Throughout the debate, Hunsaker was firm in his stance defending the Constitution. He also stated he was “unequivocally pro-life.”
On other topics, he was less forthcoming.
He was coy on whether he would accept an endorsement from former President Donald Trump if it were offered.
And while criticizing Washington politicians for refusing to offer real solutions to problems, he did not commit to anything more than participating in discussions that would ameliorate mass shootings in America.
When asked if he would support legislation implementing Red Flag laws, he demurred.
“There is no one solution for the gun conversation,” he said. “... This is a uniquely American problem and has to have a uniquely American solution.”