Facing off at Brigham Young University on Thursday evening, Utah’s U.S. Congressional District 3 candidates sparred on some of the topics most debated by Utahns — like abortion and transgender girls in sports — as well as issues that nearly everyone agrees are problems, such as inflation and energy production.
Rep. John Curtis, a Republican, is looking to secure another term representing the district that covers Provo, the city where he once served as mayor. Glenn Wright is challenging the incumbent as a Democrat. He is currently on the Summit County Council.
The 3rd Congressional District, reshaped by redistricting this past year, covers nearly the entire eastern portion of Utah, including most of the state’s oil and coal fields. Consequently, energy production has been a focus for Curtis during his tenure in Congress, and has been heavily discussed throughout this race. Thursday’s debate — Curtis and Wright’s first and only scheduled debate of the 2022 midterm elections — was no exception.
Curtis, who has gained national attention for being a Republican speaking out about climate change, said he believes in the phenomenon and that industrialization has had some impact on it.
Highlighting his work creating the Conservative Climate Caucus, which focuses on educating Republican members of the House on climate issues that align with conservatism, the congressman noted that he’s found success in not creating a climate litmus test for his colleagues.
“If you draw a continuum and you take people where they are on this issue, and you value everybody’s opinion, we can have a very thoughtful conversation about how we reduce emissions, and how we pass on an earth better to our children than the one we inherited,” Curtis said.
When asked if he would meet with President Joe Biden if the Democrat traveled to Utah, Curtis said he would take the opportunity to give Biden a tour of the 3rd District, discussing its vast amount of federal land, and showing him the communities that have historically relied on coal, oil and gas.
“I suspect if he’d take that ride with me, we’d be a lot closer on issues than before we started,” Curtis said.
In speaking to voters, he wanted to get across one “critical” point: “We don’t need to sacrifice energy independence, we don’t need to sacrifice affordable, reliable prices, and we can still reduce emissions,” Curtis said.
While he gave Curtis a thumbs up in response to his work on climate issues, Wright, who is part of the Citizens Climate Lobby, said Congress needs to be more “aggressive” in tackling them.
He agreed that the U.S. doesn’t need to sacrifice the economy to take on these issues, and in doing so, it can still be energy independent.
Wright advocated for electrifying transportation and the way people heat their houses, as well as pursuing both new and tested renewable energy solutions.
“I think we have to have hard goals that we are forced to meet,” Wright said, like reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Wright’s climate beliefs translate to how he would tackle inflation. The Democratic candidate said, in the long term, moving America away from its reliance on oil would be a boon to the economy.
He said he also supports negotiating down prescription drug prices and reducing out-of-pocket Medicare expenses.
And in addressing the national debt, Wright said the nation’s wealthiest need to be more heavily taxed.
“Where’s the money?” Wright asked. “The money is in the pockets of basically the millionaires and billionaires we have in our society right now. But the philosophy that we can never raise taxes has gone so far, that we will never balance the budget if we don’t fix that burden.”
Citing an economics lesson he learned on BYU’s campus, Curtis believes inflation must be curbed by limiting federal spending and cutting corporate regulations.
“At every turn right now you see just a flush of money coming out of Washington, D.C.,” Curtis said. “Whether it’s forgiving student loans, whether it’s COVID relief, every term we’re sending out too much money, and we’re over-restricting goods and services.”
The incumbent disagreed with Wright on taxes, saying he thinks Congress should first focus on limiting its spending before working to increase its revenue.
Curtis said both parties in Washington are responsible for overspending. The Utah Legislature’s practice of adopting a baseline budget at the beginning of every session, he believes, can be an example for how Congress can balance the national budget.
“There’s a lot of things Washington could do in fiscal matters that would be better if it copied the state of Utah,” the debate’s moderator, Kem C. Garnder Policy Institute Director Natalie Gochnour, remarked.
Where the two candidates seem to differ most is social issues. A BYU student asked, “What is your position on transgender girls participating in sports?”
Curtis responded, “We have to be fair to these young women. I have four daughters. I do not want a man competing with them in sports, period.”
Referencing the law passed this year banning transgender girls from competing in high school sports, which is currently blocked by an injunction, Wright said he didn’t think the Legislature had to get involved with the issue.
“I think the really bad part of that bill came from a segment of our society that is afraid of the LGBTQ community,” Wright said.
On abortion, Curtis described himself as “unapologetically pro-life.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, he said, was right in allowing states to make their own laws on the issue.
“I get it, if you’re a woman, it stinks that most of these legislatures are men, most of these decisions are made by men,” Curtis said. “ ... I wish, as a man, I didn’t have to make this decision. I wish women could make this decision.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Wright said to reporters, addressing the remark after the debate.
The congressman noted that there needs to be a discussion about men taking more responsibility, and how women can be better supported when facing unwanted pregnancies.
Wright responded, saying, “I think putting women in jeopardy in a significant portion of our states is not a good idea.”
While answering reporters’ questions following the debate, Wright, who is widely considered the underdog in this crimson district, said he thinks he has a shot in this race if voters upset by the overturn of Roe v. Wade show up to vote on Election Day.
“If there’s enough mad women and their families in this state that say, ‘This has got to stop,’ then I’ll get some more votes,” Wright said.