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3rd Congressional District candidates focus on government spending during GOP debate

By Carlene Coombs - | Jun 13, 2024
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JR Bird, John Dougall, Mike Kennedy, Case Lawrence and Stewart Peay, candidates in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, shake hands after taking part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
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JR Bird, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
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John Dougall, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
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Mike Kennedy, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
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Case Lawrence, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
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Stewart Peay, a candidate in the Republican primary for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, takes part in a televised debate at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Five Republican candidates seeking to represent Utah’s 3rd Congressional District took to the debate stage Wednesday night and discussed the economy, abortion and the Ukraine-Russia war.

The congressional seat is left open this year as Rep. John Curtis is running for Mitt Romney’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

Wednesday night’s debate was focused on the issues, specifically spending and the economy, with few attacks made between the competing candidates.

JR Bird, John Dougall, Mike Kennedy, Case Lawerence and Stewart Peay are the five candidates vying for the open seat, with Kennedy receiving the GOP nomination at state convention in April. Peay has received endorsements Romney and former U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart.

National debt and cutting spending

Government spending and the economy quickly became the focus of the debate, with the first question being on the national debt.

All candidates agreed on the need to find places to cut spending in the federal government, with a majority being against large budget bills.

Each candidate was asked to name the first place they would cut spending. Dougall answered the U.S. Department of Education, Kennedy supported cutting Medicaid and Medicare, Lawrence answered “unproved green climate schemes,” Peay wanted to cut transportation and put it in the hands of states, and Bird said he would support cutting welfare spending.

Dougall, who is currently the state auditor, said the national debt is one of the country’s “greatest security threats.”

“They (Congress) do not understand the dire circumstance we’re in, and I will tell the (House) speaker that my top priority is helping folks understand the problem with the out-of-control spending and how we need to rein that in,” Dougall said.

Kennedy said he would vote no on omnibus bills if he wasn’t given enough time to read them thoroughly.

“These are 1,000-page bills and people are given less than three hours to read them. The answer is no when that happens,” he said.

Lawerence called for the end of large spending bills and “government giveaways” like student loan forgiveness and also promoted the reform of entitlement programs.

“It’s important to send serious people back to Washington, DC, who will lead and stand and fight for the American dream. And that starts first and foremost with our budget,” he said.

Bird, who is currently the Roosevelt mayor, said he has experience passing a balanced budget in his city and that allowing future generations to inherit the national debt is “immoral and wrong.” He also called for single-subject bills and preventing Congress from working on anything else until a budget is passed.

Peay said the U.S. needs elected representatives who have shared relationships, values and experiences and that the current members of Congress don’t understand the struggles of everyday Americans.

Abortion

When asked during the debate if they would support nationwide restrictions on abortion, such as a 15-week ban, all candidates stated they were anti-abortion but varied slightly on support of federal regulations.

Lawrence stated he would support a nationwide abortion ban of 15 weeks, saying blue states like California are encouraging “abortion tourism” and federal restrictions need to be considered if that continues.

“Extreme abortion states are marketing and encouraging abortion tourism throughout our country, recruiting, literally, women and young minors to go to their state for any kind of abortion at any stage of pregnancy,” he said. “If that continues, we need to strongly consider a federal ban.”

While taking questions from reporters after the debate, Lawrence said he would not support any federal restrictions on in vitro fertilization or birth control, but would not say if he would vote for protecting access to either.

Kennedy did not answer if he would support a federal ban, stating he has a “100% pro-life record” and has supported anti-abortion legislation in Utah.

“With the Dobbs decision, states have the chance to innovate. And I’ll admit, some states are doing this terribly wrong. Utah does it right,” he said.

Peay said that while he welcomed the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the issue should be left to the states.

Bird also said abortion should be an issue for the states to decide and expressed support for the abortion restrictions within Utah.

Dougall said he believes this is an issue the federal government shouldn’t have the power to deal with and creating legislation to restrict abortion could lead to loosening abortion restrictions in the future.

“The Supreme Court rightly returned it (abortion) to the states and the people. I think those that are continuing to push it at the federal level will ultimately end up with a California-style pro-abortion plan,” he said.

Ukraine-Russia war

Candidates had varied views on the U.S. providing funding to Ukraine during the country’s war with Russia, with some willing to approve funds to Ukraine and others hesitant.

Peay, a former national guardsman, showed the strongest support for Ukraine, noting that its military struggled while Congress debated whether to approve an aid package for the country.

He said if the U.S. doesn’t provide aid to Ukraine, the “Chinese and Iranians will see the weakness in America, and they will take advantage of it. Places like Taiwan and the Middle East will grow worse.”

Lawrence also showed support in providing aid to Ukraine, saying President Joe Biden’s administration has made the U.S. look weak, and the country needs to show strength on a global scale.

“Part of the formula for a strong American presence is supporting our allies abroad,” Lawrence said. “When we talk about Ukraine, we talk a lot about the cost and we skip over talking about the cause. Their cause is just.”

Dougall said he supports providing aid to Ukraine to stop “Russian aggression.”

“I’d rather send bullets than boys. I don’t want boots on the ground,” he said. “But I also want to avoid European countries exercising and invoking Article 5 of NATO where we come to their mutual defense. We need to stop Russian aggression.”

Bird had more reservations on the issue, saying that the U.S. has put billions into the war without many results, and added he’s concerned that the U.S. and the world are still too reliant on Russia for energy sources and simultaneously funding Russia that way.

“This is a difficult situation … We’ve sent hundreds of billions of dollars to Ukraine for funding and we’re not moving the needle,” he said.

Kennedy blamed Biden for making the country “look weak” after the withdrawal from Afghanistan and said Ukraine needs to help pay for the war and, if they can’t, Russia needs to pay for it.

Donald Trump

While no questions were asked during the debate regarding former President Donald Trump, Dougall had strong words for the presumptive Republican presidential candidate after the debate.

“The simple fact is I called him (Trump) seditious on Jan. 6. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, just as he did. And look at what he did. The attack took place on the Capitol, police officers were attacked. The constitutional process of counting the votes was disrupted while he sat on his hands and watched and then tweeted that his vice president was cowardly. … That’s seditious,” Dougall said to reporters.

Dougall said that Trump likely being the GOP presidential nominee is a problem for the Republican party, saying the GOP used to be the party of “big ideas” and now has become the party of “vengeance and retribution.”

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