ST. GEORGE – The conclusion of a congressional candidate debate Monday between Republican Rep. Chris Stewart and Democratic challenger Shireen Ghorbani was interrupted by a man who got on the stage and hijacked Stewart’s microphone.
Stewart was giving his closing remarks during the Utah’s 2nd Congressional District candidate debate hosted at Dixie State University, when the man suddenly walked on stage, leaned over in front of him and shouted “Vaccines cause autism” twice before being escorted off stage by police.
Following the incident Stewart told reporters he thought the man was a technician who was needing to fix his microphone.
According to Washington County booking information, the man who interrupted the debate is Corbin McMillen, of California. He was arrested by DSU police and has since been charged with a misdemeanor for disrupting a public meeting.
McMillen’s hijacking a microphone wasn’t the only disruption at the debate’ however, instances of clapping, booing and one other man shouting at Stewart from the audience were more benign by comparison.
The moderator, Deseret News editor Doug Wilkes, repeatedly asked the audience to refrain from continued outburst of applause and booing so the candidates could have more time to speak.
As for the man who shouted at Stewart from the audience, he was already walking to the door when a police officer headed his way. He had yelled, “Utah supports families” during an exchange between Ghorbani and Stewart concerning healthcare and social programs
Ghorbani said health care is a primary reason why she got into the congressional race. She shared that the experience of her mother dying of cancer in 2016 was a motivating factor and calls for affordable health care reform.
“I saw up close how quickly families can lose absolutely everything with one diagnosis,” she said. “Access to affordable health care is a concern for many in this state.”
Stewart said many of the problems lie with former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Many promises made concerning Obamacare have been broken, he said, and the price of care keeps rising.
“Under my plan, a Republican plan, no one can be denied coverage,” Stewart said, adding the plan includes increased funding for women’s health programs, cost controls for insurance policies, the ability to buy insurance policies across state lines and other reforms.
“Sounds like Obamacare,” Ghorbani responded, prompting applause from supporters.
Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and transparency in hospital billing are two items Ghorbani said she is pushing for. She also accused Congress of not passing meaningful reforms due to the influence of pharmaceutical companies.
Among questions posed to the candidates from the local community was in regards to the Lake Powell Pipeline.
“Water is a very truly present issue,” Ghorbani said, adding she did not believe enough concrete research has been done yet to warrant her support. She wants to know what the overall cost of the pipeline will be – preliminary estimates place it at between $1.3 billion and $1.8 billion – and if it is actually needed.
There is support for water conservation in Washington County, she said, and the final price of the pipeline plus its impact on county residents need to be known.
Stewart said he supports the pipeline because it’s supported by the people of Washington County, which earned him some jeers from the audience. Stewart has been trying to work with the federal regulatory agencies involved the Lake Powell Pipeline’s portion approval to get it going, he said.
Ghorbani and Stewart agreed on the need to bring down government speeding and lower the national debt. Stewart has called the national debt a danger to national security and quickly mentioned it again before sharing what he felt was a bigger problem when the question was brought up during the debate.
Stewart said he believes China is the greatest national security threat the country currently faces and mentioned the country’s ambitions to become the dominant world power in coming decades.
Though she did not use his name at first, Ghorbani implied President Donald Trump was a threat to the country.
“I’m concerned the person in our White House is not leading with the clarity of our American values in the way that we deserve,” she said.
When asked if she could support Trump, Ghorbani said she would support the office of the president and wants him to do well yet is troubled by his conduct.
“I’m distressed we have a president that fans the flames of division,” she said. She also stated at other times during the debate that she believes America’s standing in the world has been harmed due to Trump’s behavior.
Stewart said he also supports the president and many of his policies, though disagrees with him on a number of issues like tariffs – an issue he and his challenger both agree is hurting particular Utah industries.
“I support the president on many of his policies,” Stewart said, “but I’m not afraid to say when I think he’s wrong on this. Just like I thought he’s wrong on family separation at the border and things he’s said about Russia. I think he’s wrong on tariffs.”
Monday’s debate is the only one thus far held between Ghorbani and Stewart.
Stewart has served as Utah’s 2nd Congressional District representative since 2012. According to a recent survey hosted on Utah Policy, Stewart has 45 percent support among Utah voters while Ghorbani garners 34 percent. Libertarian candidate Jeffery Whipple carries 5 percent, with 16 percent of voters undecided.
The next major candidate debate slated for Southern Utah will be the U.S. Senate race between Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Jennifer Wilson. It will be held Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. at Southern Utah University in Ceder City.
Watch Monday’s 2nd Congressional District candidate debate below, courtesy of the Utah Debate Commission.
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