CEDAR CITY — United States Congressman Chris Stewart, for Utah’s 2nd congressional district, faced off against Utah state Sen. Luz Robles Thursday in a candidate debate for the office up for election Nov. 4, hosted by the Utah Debate Commission and the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service at Southern Utah University in Cedar City.
Around 200 students, supporters and community members packed into the Sterling R. Church Auditorium on the SUU campus for a debate — moderated by former KTVX anchor Barbara Smith — that included topics such as common core standards in education, public lands, gay marriage and the country’s debt.
In his opening statement, Stewart, currently running as the Republican nominee, said his hope was that the debate would help answer some questions that are on the minds of many Americans. These included: Who is going to keep them safe? Who is going to create jobs? What does the future now hold with the Affordable Care Act in place.
“I believe in the American dream, I believe in the inherited goodness of the American people and I believe in the resilience of the American economy,” Stewart said. “But we can only protect those things if we are willing to fight for those things.”
In her opening statement, Robles, the Democratic nominee, said it is important to continue to push for change in what the United States Congress is doing, as well as to push for the working man’s voice to be represented.
“I get to work every day at Zion’s Bank, working with small business, helping them develop …,” Robles said. “I get to be a mom, I get to be a wife and I get to serve in the state Senate. I know I can bring more to Congress.”
Common Core Education
The first topic of debate was addressed to Robles, centering on her opinion of common core standards in education.
In her position as state Senator, Robles said, she has had much experience speaking on these standards and said they originally came about as a way to ensure students who move from one state to another were being placed into the correct educational programs.
These standards are being implemented across the state, she said, but always around the local school boards. The key is ensuring decisions regarding educational curriculum remain on a local level.
“I believe there is a role of the federal government, but it’s limited when it comes to education …,” Robles said. “But when it comes to these standards, I don’t see how they could hurt anybody.”
In response, Stewart said the tradition of each area being in control of educating their own local children is the way it should be. Some of those decisions could and maybe should be made by the state, he said, but they should never be made by the federal government.
While Stewart said he agreed with much of what Robles said regarding keeping these decisions local, he has heard a large amount of varying opinions from educators throughout the state regarding how these decisions should be made.
Robles said it is important for Utahns to realize that their children are part of a competitive global market, and that ensuring American children are kept to a certain standard regarding education is important because it will help them compete with others in the world.
Managing the wild horse population
The federal government manages these wild horses, Stewart said. There are supposed to be about 26,500 of these horses, but right now the number is closer to 55,000. Because there are so many, the horses are destroying the range and causing many of them to starve.
“If you care about these animals then you have to recognize that this situation right now is intolerable,” Stewart said.
The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal will take 12 years to implement, Stewart said, and meanwhile the horse population doubles every four-five years. The answer is to let the state manage this issue.
“We know that the state can manage herds like this,” Stewart said. “It managed our elk and it managed our deer. If you care about these animals like I do, then let us manage them.”
In response to Stewart’s remarks, Robles said she agreed with what Stewart had to say about Utah becoming involved in managing the horses. There has been conversation at the state Legislature, she said, about a possible partnership between the state and federal government to ensure the animals are taken care of.
“We can take care of them,” Robles said. “They are part of our backyard.”
What to do with Utah’s national parks and public lands
No one is proposing that the state take over control of the national parks, Stewart said. If there was a push for that he would not support it. It is an issue however, he said, that so many bureaucrats who have never stepped foot inside the state are making decisions about lands in Utah.
Many Utahns choose to live in the state because of the amazing mountains and deserts we have, Stewart said, and the people of Utah want to protect these lands.
“We are smart enough to do that and the people of Utah care enough to do that,” he said. “Let us manage these lands.”
Robles disagreed with Stewart, and said it has been a matter of discussion as to who these lands actually belong to. Robles said it is important that we protect our access to public lands that make Utah so attractive to tourism.
“Our number one revenue maker … is tourism, it’s the outdoor industry and all the employment that it brings to the state of Utah,” Robles said. “We’d be very concerned if we privatized that or sold it to the state and don’t have the resources to take care of (the land).”
Opinions on same-sex marriage
The issue itself is one of equality, Robles said. There is a history within this country of ensuring every human is seen and respected. In this case, she said, she thinks it will come down to a Supreme Court decision that hopefully makes a change to how the nation recognizes an individual’s ability to be with the person they love without government interference.
“I don’t see why people should limit what other people have just based on their sexual orientation,” Robles said. “At the same time, we are in the middle of a process … but I will continue to support equality for all Utahns.”
Stewart took a different angle of the situation than Robles and laid out his personal view on the issue of same-sex marriage. Stewart said he thinks all people should be treated with respect and courtesy, but he does not agree that the concept of marriage should deviate from how it has been viewed for thousands of years.
“I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Stewart said. “That is my moral teaching and that is my faith teaching. I don’t know how I could possibly turn my back on that.”
Stewart said he thinks there is another element to the conversation: that is, giving states the right to decide how they define marriage. If other states would choose a different path than Utah, he would be okay with that; but as of now, Stewart said, the people of Utah have already spoken on this.
In her rebuttal, Robles said getting the federal government involved with issues involving equality is not a new idea, citing the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1968.
“At the end of the day, we are talking about human beings and children who belong to those families,” Robles said, “and I know many of them are hurting.”
Problems and plans to fix the immigration system
We are a nation of immigrants, Stewart said. We built the greatest nation in the world because of all the hard work of people who wanted to come here and wanted to be part of that. The difference between then and now, he said, is that it was done legally.
In order to fix problems within the current system and counter the issue of illegal immigration, Stewart said, the first step we must take is securing the border. After that, Stewart said, it would be great to begin working on making the citizenship and visa process more friendly and efficient.
“I don’t know how you can argue that (fixing the system) doesn’t start with securing our borders,” Stewart said. “A nation has to be able to protect its sovereignty.”
In response, Robles said that Congress’ incompetence of not acting within the last 40 years is sad because the issue is a public policy issue. She said the “Band-Aid solution” of fixing little aspects of the system here and there is not working.
Congress’ failure to take action, Robles said, has caused some states to move forward with passing unconstitutional laws. This has caused multiple lawsuits to take place against these states as well.
“I’m not blaming one specific political party,” Robles said. “It’s just devastating and it’s devastating for the states. We have to pay the bills on many of their lack of enforcement, lack of their work towards bringing real policy.”
To end the debate, both candidates thanked all in attendance for taking the time to come and get involved and learn about current issues.
Both Robles and Stewart said they were proud to serve in a diverse district of both urban and rural communities and hope a large number of people register to vote in the upcoming Nov. 4 elections. Both candidates also took time to thank one another.
Public service is hard, Robles said, and I appreciate and respect anyone who has their name on a ballot; putting their families and themselves out there.
“I think it is time we continue to seek the American dream,” Robles said. “I came here to this country looking for that dream and I know it’s alive. I want to make sure my kids have the same opportunities I had 18 years ago when I came to America.”
Stewart chose to close his portion with a quote.
“Abraham Lincoln said, ‘We are the last best home on earth,’” Stewart said. “That was true when he said it, and it is still true today.”
The next debate offered though the Utah Debate Commission will be between candidates for attorney general and will be held on Oct. 1 at Brigham Young University
Those wishing to learn more about candidates running in their areas, viewing a sample ballet or registering to vote can visit the Vote Utah website.
- Vote Utah
- Utah Debate Commission
- Congressman Chris Stewart
- State Senator Luz Robles
- Michael O. Leavitt Center
- Who should manage public lands? Lockhart, Ivory face off with McCool, Keiter at SUU debate
- C. comes to Dixie: Rep. Stewart visits St. George; STGnews Videocast
- Robles aims to give voice to working-class Utahns
- Stewart delivers message of encouragement to Tonaquint students
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