Tribune Editorial: Curtis for Congress

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mayor John Curtis speaks during Utah's 3rd District Congressional debate, Friday, October 13, 2017.

The race to fill the congressional seat in Utah’s 3rd District is nearing the finish line. Mail ballots will be sent to voters on October 17, early voting begins the 24th and election day is November 7.

Third district voters are appropriately chagrined that they’re voting for this office again. Just last November they voted for Jason Chaffetz to represent them, but he quit in June to chase an apparent Fox News talking head dream. Good riddance.

Six candidates are vying for the seat, but the race is really between two candidates, three if you’re charitable: Kathie Allen, Democrat; Jim Bennett, United Utah; and John Curtis, Republican. Since the 3rd District is arguably the most conservative district in the state, this election is Republican John Curtis’s to lose.

And we think he should win.

As a doctor, Kathie Allen is uniquely positioned to contribute to the health care debate. But her positions on most other issues are scant and lackluster. Allen struggles to connect as a politician, and would have a steep learning curve in Washington. Her campaign lost purpose after Chaffetz resigned, and polls show she has not been able to regain momentum.

Allen admits that people don’t know her. A granddaughter of Armenian refugees who escaped genocide in Turkey, Allen has failed to tell her story and connect with voters in the 3rd District. She believes the Republican Party has a general lack of compassion for people, which offends her, and she couldn’t therefore represent the heavily-Republican district well.

Despite the development of a new “centrist” political party and the opportunity to bridge the partisan divide, Jim Bennett offers few real solutions to the debate. His approach can be summed up by his statement on public lands on his website, “I will take the same approach by [sic] father did ….” Of course, the difficulty with that approach is that his father’s positions were similarly hard to pin down. For someone who decries partisan politics, Bennett spends a lot of time maligning both Republicans and Democrats. He cannot be an honest broker between two parties he despises.

And the party Bennett does represent, the United Utah Party, is more a conglomerate of disaffected persons than it is a political party. Its platform is broad and vague. It rests its laurels on an idea that candidates should be free to define their own positions, which sounds like an Independent candidate to us. If the characters from Seinfeld were to create a political party, it would look a lot like the UUP – a party of nothing.

Mayor John Curtis is clearly the most experienced, most reasonable and most ready choice. His role as Provo mayor has prepared him for Washington; he will work well with the Republican caucus. He wants to bring back the days when Congress was more civil with each other because they socialized together. In other words, he won’t be sleeping on a cot.

Curtis understands we need clean air, he wants to help diversify cities in his district that rely on coal and he hopes to reform the Antiquities Act. He realizes that Congress needs to work on bipartisan health care solutions. He’s willing to support measures that prohibit firearm accessories that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, like bump stocks. He wants to simplify the tax code and as mayor was careful not to increase his constituents’ tax burden. He is an advocate of free trade. As a consummate politician, he won’t say whether President Trump is doing a good job, but he didn’t vote for him, so there’s that.

In short, Curtis is willing to have a conversation about most things. He is not afraid of diverse opinions, and nothing is off the table. He’s a consensus-builder, and that’s a good start.

His kerfuffle over immigration is a red flag that voters should watch closely. Curtis has walked back an apparent mistaken Facebook ad that supported building a wall between the United States and Mexico. His actual immigration stance is much more practical, advocating for a system that would allow work and citizenship for undocumented immigrants who provide restitution in proportion to their wrong. Under Curtis, there will be no loading up on buses and shipping people out. Notwithstanding his unfortunate social media posts, Curtis appears to take a common sense approach to immigration.

Washington needs an infusion of people who realize there is purpose in a divided government, who appreciate different ideas and are able to negotiate solutions. John Curtis appears to be this type of person. He is a practical politician who will serve the 3rd District well.

And at the very least, he’s better than Chaffetz.