ST. GEORGE — Kael Weston, the Democratic Party candidate for District 2 for the United States House of Representatives, recently spoke with St. George News to discuss current issues ranging from health care to bridging division in the country.
Weston is running against incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart and Libertarian candidate J. Robert Latham.
Weston, a Utah native, served for over a decade in the U.S. State Department and spent seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. During and after the biggest battle of the Iraq war in Falluja, Weston served as the State Department Political Advisor to a dozen Marine leaders to rebuild Falluja and facilitate the return of hundreds of thousands of residents back to the city, among other responsibilities. (See Ed. note)
Weston is also an author of “The Mirror Test,” a nonfiction book that grapples with America’s actions abroad and the consequences of war. He has also been a monthly contributor to the Salt Lake Tribune and has had writing published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Washington Post and others.
Weston has spent much of his campaign in his 2003 Toyota Tacoma truck driving from one end of the state to the other visiting with people and listening to the issues that are most concerning to voters. He has also sat in on County Commission meetings in towns such as Beaver and Garfield.
“It’s quite a year to be running, but I’m still convinced this is one of the most important things I’ll ever do — probably not the hardest thing I’ve ever done — but one of the most important things, for sure.”
See Weston’s answers to St. George News’ questions below:
Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job and what issues are most pressing to you?
Being raised by parents who grew up and Milford, and having grandparents who owned stores in Milford and Beaver, Weston said he has a deep appreciation and understanding of the needs of small towns in rural Utah, which are often overlooked due to the vastness of the district.
Combined with his time spent serving overseas, Weston said his experiences have afforded him a unique perspective shaped from life experiences and having had the great honor of representing the country for almost 11 years.
“That experience made me realize that policy, when done well, helps people, but when policy fails, people can die. Iraq taught me that,” he said. “While I haven’t run for office since high school, representing our country officially in that role I think gives me a lot of perspective and experience to say, ‘I’m ready to represent a district of 700,000 people.'”
Weston said at a time when the depths of the dysfunctional government are being exposed by the pandemic, governing should be taken seriously, which is something he said he doesn’t see Stewart doing.
“I think he’s been on cruise control and flyover status for a long time,” he said. “Maybe that’s because it’s a hard district; it’s almost half the state, geographically. I also believe that this is a referendum on the poisonous politics of division that Donald Trump and Chris Stewart represent. Chris Stewart is all-in with the current government, even after comparing Trump to Mussolini.”
There needs to be a reckoning and accountability that comes through this election, he added.
“I love that the district is big, complicated, beautiful,” he said. “I’m a bridge-builder. I’m instinctively looking for a common ground.”
The logo that represents his campaign is a forearm grasp between two people, which speaks to a need of closing the distance between one another and healing the current division in the country that Weston sees as one of the most pressing issues.
“The division is real. I think the violence could get worse. We need to get to the day after the election, where we’re talking more ‘olive branch’ than the alternative.”
Another pressing issue has to do with protecting things like the postal service and keeping post offices open to ensure that in an era of a pandemic, people can vote safely and know that their votes are counted fairly.
But the No. 1 issue to Weston is health care. While he does not advocate taking away private insurance, protecting the Affordable Care Act, especially right now during a pandemic, is a high priority. He said Stewart has voted over 40 times to cut and underfund the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m fighting to make sure the Affordable Care Act is there for people, particularly at a time when COVID has led to so many job losses.”
Who are you supporting for president and why?
Weston said he is supporting the Biden-Harris ticket 100% because he believes, most importantly, that they’re looking to bring Americans together, to stop pointing fingers of blame and begin to rebuild and repair a divided country.
“I put country over party. I will never be someone who will put party politics ahead of what’s in the national interest. Biden and Harris both speak to that.”
Weston said he doesn’t think the country can heal if the status quo continues, as the “politics are too poisonous.” He also referenced Jim Mattis, former secretary of defense, saying that America has never had a “divider-in-chief” like Donald Trump.
“I think it’s corrosive and dangerous.”
With people struggling financially as a result of the pandemic, what, if any, kind of federal financial aid packages do you support?
Weston said he would start with the unemployment amount, as there are people who can’t work, explaining that unemployment needs to be passed and continued.
He said one of the most important things that the pandemic has shown is that it hit women, minorities and the most vulnerable people in the community the hardest.
“I think that we need to look at people who don’t get to Zoom for work every day.”
Moratoriums on evictions are also important, he added. In rural parts of Utah, it’s important that schools are able to meet budgets because revenue is down. While there has been some progress on getting the capability up in terms of bandwidth, many of the rural communities are still facing challenges.
“If the federal government could help close those gaps, we ought to do it,” he said, pointing to another area in which he and Stewart are on either ends of the spectrum. “I will also put people first.”
Related to this issue, Weston pointed to the $1.5 trillion tax cut that was passed year one of the Trump administration.
“That tax cut did not help a lot of Utahns; it helped a lot of wealthy Americans and corporations.”
Weston also talked about economies in Southern Utah that rely on tourism that were impacted by the pandemic.
“With our beautiful national parks in the district, I think we have to look hard at when the federal government has to come in and provide a bridge until our economies can pick back up. And that’s only going to happen once the virus is under control — and we’re far from that.”
What are your thoughts for or against the proposed Northern Corridor in Washington County?
Weston said from what he understands, there are better alternatives, similar to the Lake Powell Pipeline.
“If you kind of build first and think later, that’s probably not a good strategy,” he said. “I think that the conservation areas are important. I think the desert tortoise habitat took a hit from the fires.”
He said it comes down to the question of whether the development mindset gets ahead of the civic, more balanced mindset.
“I think Mother Nature has called the bluff on the pipeline,” he said.
Questions on growth management are difficult, he said, and sometimes there are only bad options.
“But once you get into some of these conservation areas, they’re gone. I think all of us who have lived in Utah or are from Utah have seen when management is done well and when it’s not done well. In that case, it seems to be a rush toward development rather than a more balanced approach because those conservation areas are pretty special and pretty unique.”
Ed. note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Weston’s title with the State Department.
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