ST. GEORGE — Democratic primary candidate J. Kael Weston visited St. George Thursday afternoon to discuss his campaign for the 2020 elections as he seeks to take Rep. Chris Stewart’s seat for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Weston’s experience representing the U.S. government, which includes seven years serving as a State Department advisor for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from 2003-2010, largely informs his campaign and reason for running for political office now.
“It took me two decades and a lot of scar tissue to run for Congress,” he said.
Weston’s campaign focuses on the idea of being a better neighbor, which he said requires constructive dialogue and holding members of Congress accountable, a sentiment he gained from his experience overseas.
In his memoir, “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Weston recounts the death of 31 service members whose lives were lost when their helicopter crashed on a mission, deaths for which he said he feels responsible. Upon returning to the U.S., he traveled across the country to visit the gravesites of all those who passed away.
For him, this was an act of taking accountability for the incident.
“In order to hold people accountable, you need to speak from a place of accountability,” he said.
War and peace is a matter of life and death, which Weston said should be approached with the ultimate respect. He felt not enough members of Congress could understand the reality when it came to speaking with military leaders.
One of the best things people can do as a nation is put leaders on stage and interrogate them, he said.
Accountability is also imperative for strengthening relationships with allies, Weston said, especially if President Donald Trump is reelected.
“For me, Congress is about serious issues. If President Trump wants to start another war because he wants to distract, to your question, accountability, accountability, accountability,” he said.
National security was a primary topic Weston discussed during his time in St. George, mentioning his concern with the president potentially starting an unnecessary war.
“We need to have a conversation about what the last 20 years have meant for our military,” he said. “The most important decision a member of Congress can make is whether to send young Utahns from Delta, St. George, West Valley, Tooele, to the avenues to war.”
In light of his overseas deployment, Weston said he saw a lot of failures in a country having rushed into an unnecessary war.
“When you look at civilian experience and war, let’s go back to these other conflicts and not forget that Marines always get deployed home,” he said. “But if you’re an Afghan or an Iraqi or in Vietnam, you don’t. You know, our wars are in their neighborhoods.”
Americans have also been very fortunate, he added.
The logo of Weston’s campaign goes beyond a handshake; it’s a forearm-to-forearm hold, symbolizing the willingness to reach out and cross the division to try to “bring us up as a country, as a state, as a district,” he said.
“We have a president who, every day, is trying to do the opposite.”
The forearm-hold demonstrates this need to work together, and in order to do this, Weston said, people need to start listening to one another before reaching conclusions.
“We’ve lost the art of listening,” he said. “We’re too quick to judge, and I don’t think that’s healthy, and I don’t think that’s going to lead us to a better place as a district or a state or a country — or even internationally.”
To this point, he discussed his mission to provide better representation for the district.
“Being a bystander in 2020 is not acceptable,” Weston said. “People are starting to stand up. They’re starting to look in the mirror and see a conscience.”
Referencing incumbent Stewart, Weston said there needs to be a debate about the effects of supporting the president and how that might impact the district.
“If you support a president who demeans individual Americans as a game, that’s not the country that I believe we have been. That’s not a country we should accept as being okay,” he said.
Weston said he thinks Stewart is empowering a commander in chief that has actually weakened the military by pardoning people for what appear to be war crimes.
“I think he needs to be asked some hard questions about someone he compared to Mussolini during the campaign and somehow seems to be okay with right now,” he said. “And we should have a debate about that.”
On the other hand, Weston did not shy away from giving Stewart credit, particularly for his work on the bill for the Suicide Prevention Act, which would provide funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tracking suicide attempts and other acts of self-harm.
Noting his family roots, which run deeply in Milford, Beaver,and Minersville, Weston said this affords him a certain advantage in understanding both the tension and possibilities for solutions in urban and rural Utah.
“We’re all complicated people, and this district represents what a member of Congress needs to be speaking about. It’s rural. It’s urban. It’s got land issues that are serious: both conservation and growth. It’s got the beauty of national parks. I think what I like about the 2nd District is that it’s a very complicated district,” he said.
In terms of how leaders should address the rapid growth of Washington County and providing water to desert communities, Weston said the focus should be on conservation, especially on an individual basis. As far as his stance on the Lake Powell Pipeline, he said in addition to conservation, sound planning and smart management are key principles to consider prior to committing to such a large investment.
“It sounds like things are being rushed in a way that probably isn’t good policy,” he said. “I would say conserve first before you spend a lot of taxpayer dollars for a certain question mark.”
One of the ways Weston plans to deal with these tough issues, should he be elected, is to first make sure everyone is in the room who should be and put country before party.
“I’m always going to put country first — not party. And I’m always looking for us to be better neighbors,” he said. “That’s going to take work from all of us, whether we’re Republican, Independent, unaffiliated or a Democrat.”
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