Three candidates, each vying for the opportunity to represent Utah’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, gathered in a Utah Valley University lecture hall Tuesday evening to discuss policy issues ranging from voting rights to immigration.
The incumbent was not one of them.
It was the second time in the past month that Rep. Burgess Owens had been presented the opportunity to discuss issues opposite his Republican primary opponent, Jake Hunsaker. He has declined to show both times, and it appears unlikely that he will debate at all before his primary on June 28.
Alongside Hunsaker, United Utah Party candidate January Walker and Democrat Darlene McDonald took part in the “candidate forum” hosted by Mormon Women for Ethical Government and the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy at UVU. The event was moderated by Erika Munson and Casey Jorgensen with Braver Angels, a nonprofit organization that aims to “depolarize” American politics.
The forum was civil, and while the candidates espoused various preferred solutions for policy issues. When asked about voting rights, Hunsaker advocated for track-my-ballot initiatives, while Walker talked about using new technologies to secure elections. But everyone largely agreed that bipartisan work and communication are vital to moving the country forward and escaping political gridlock.
“What we need in politics today is individuals that can transcend party lines and bring people together and bring solutions forward for the people,” Walker said.
Another topic on which the candidates seemed to agree was the incumbent.
“We have candidates who will not show up for debate because they don’t have to because of gerrymandered districts that they just know that they’re going to get voted in,” McDonald said, without mentioning Owens specifically. “... They are not working for you.”
Hunsaker was more direct in his criticism.
“We know that the incumbent in the 4th district, with whom I’m battling in my party’s primary right now, feels that it is beneath him to even earn the votes of Republicans who see the world differently than he does,” he said. “... More than anything, we need someone who will show up to listen to voters.”
He also took aim at the number of constituent town halls Owens has attended during his run in Congress and the amount of funding he has received from outside the state.
After the questions were finished, the three candidates smiled as they took a picture together to end the evening.