ST. GEORGE — During a one-on-one discussion at Utah Tech University on Tuesday evening, 2nd Congressional District candidates Kathleen Riebe and Celeste Maloy shared their views and positions on a myriad of topics including inflation, education, federal management of public lands and more.
The discussion was hosted by Vince Brown, director of the Institute of Politics who also teaches at the university. He ran through various questions that were based on a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll as well as some from his students.
Before diving into the questions, Brown had the candidates share details of their backgrounds.
Riebe, the Democrat candidate, currently serves as a state senator representing Utah’s 15th Senate District situated in Salt Lake County. She also serves as the minority whip in the state Senate. Outside of politics, Riebe has worked as a school teacher for over 20 years and also served a stint on the Utah State Board of Education before running for the Utah Senate.
Maloy, the Republican candidate, recently served as chief legal counsel for Congressman Chris Stewart’s office. Prior to that she was an assistant Washington County attorney and served in the leadership of the Washington County Republican Party. She also worked in Beaver County as a part of the United States Department of Agriculture.
What follows are highlights from the discussion.
Education – Brown asked about the federal government’s involvement in education as well as public education funding. Federal funding for public schools currently stands at around 8% over the national budget.
While Riebe said she felt available federal funding for K-12 schooling provided some guardrails for students and a framework for Utah to build upon, she also said she didn’t believe there needed to be any extra federal influence in the classroom.
“It needs to be local money and local control,” she said.
Riebe said she opposed the use of vouchers. Instead of providing vouchers, she said that money should stay with the schools in order to better fund and improve the public education system rather than taking away from it.
In relation to education, Maloy said, “I think the people who should be making those decisions should be state and local school boards and parents. … I think parental involvement is absolutely key.”
Federal funding can come with mandates and strings attached, Maloy said, adding that she would like to see more state and local control in order to avoid that.
As for vouchers, Maloy supports them, saying she believes parents should have options in how their children are educated.
Inflation – A top concern for voters across the board, Brown asked the candidates what Congress can do to fight inflation.
“We’ve passed some huge spending bills outside of the appropriations process in the last few years,” Maloy said. “If you pump a lot of federal dollars into the economy it makes inflation worse. The more dollars you have, the less they’re worth. … We’ve got to get our spending under control. Spending and inflation are tied.”
While spending less at the federal level won’t totally fix the issue, Maloy said it can pave the way to beginning to curb spending and paying down the national deficit.
“There’s a lot that goes into inflation,” Riebe said.
Interest rates for homes will go up and inflation is gradually improving, but not at a rate that many people are noticing yet, she said.
“We’re coming out of a lot of crises and are still in the middle of some crises,” Riebe said. “So we have to start thinking about how we’ll be moving forward once we become more secure. The analogy I use is that if your car’s broken down and your house is on fire, it’s not time to start cutting your budget. You just try and get over the problem first.”
Riebe suggested restructuring Social Security in a way that makes it more solvent may help counter inflation. Tax cuts that are set to expire in 2025 may also help balance out some of the problem, she said.
Public lands – Both Riebe and Maloy said there needs to be more local involvement in managing public lands. Riebe pushed the idea of better partnerships between the federal and local governments, while Maloy said there needs to be much less federal red tape getting in the way of public land use and access.
“The system we have in place right now is not really working,” Riebe said, adding that it was tenuous and contentious and promotes a “push-and-pull” relationship between federal agencies and local communities. “We have to do better.”
In addition to advocating for more local involvement in the management of public lands, Riebe said contracts for resource harvesting on public lands should be bumped five to 20 years more in order to make them more feasible. Local people should be able to make money from their public lands and continue to use them for recreation.
“I think the people that are the closest to those public lands should have a say in how we operate them and take care of them,” she said. “We have to start building a better partnership.”
Maintaining access to the public lands has been a notable part of Maloy’s campaign in Southern Utah.
“In a public lands state like Utah, where the federal government manages most of the land, the state and the local governments spend a lot of time working to preserve access, and that’s something that I have worked on for a lot of years and intend to continue working on,” Maloy said.
Overall, the federal government is too involved in public lands and the daily lives of the people in general, Maloy added.
An example she gave was how local governments have to go through federal processes and permitting in order to maintain a power line or road that happens to run through public land. That’s not an issue for communities in states that lack the volume of public lands that those across the West do.
“We spend a lot of political time and capital on those issues because almost everything we do has a public lands nexus,” Maloy said. “It makes life more expensive and makes processes slower and wastes taxpayer money on both sides.”
Second Amendment – Brown noted that people within the congressional district are major supporters of the Second Amendment of the Constitution and say they keep guns for the purpose of self-defense and providing a “bulwark against tyranny.”
“The Second Amendment couldn’t be more clear,” Maloy said. “There’s a lot of debate about why we have that right, but the language is clear – we have that right.”
Debates over who should and shouldn’t have guns and who ultimately gets to decide that is the wrong debate to have, she said. While she acknowledged she doesn’t have an answer to the question of gun violence, Maloy said more should be done to understand the issues that contribute to it so they can be countered and resolved.
“For now the Second Amendment remains in place as part of the Constitution, and it’s an important part of the Constitution.”
As for Riebe, she said she has taken a vow to uphold the Constitution and that includes the Second Amendment. Members of her family own guns and she supports their use for self-defense and hunting.
However, as a public school teacher, Riebe said she worries she may one day go to school and encounter a teen with a gun and have to act in self-defense.
“I’m going to have to shoot him before he shoots me – that’s a devastating thing to think about,” she said.
People shouldn’t have to worry about protecting themselves in public spaces due to the worry someone with a gun may show up and start shooting, Riebe said.
“We have to come up with some solutions,” she said. “And I don’t care what first step we take, but we should be able to come up with a solution together. … I’m willing to start anywhere.”
Additional topics covered during the debate included affordable housing, the national debt, inequality, carbon taxes and climate change, support for Israel and Ukraine and “working across the aisle” with members of the other party.
The general election is set for Nov. 21.
Prior to the one-on-one candidate forum, four Republican hopefuls eyeing to be Sen. Mitt Romney’s replacement were featured in an informal forum event hosted by Robert Axson, chair of the Utah Republican Party.
Both forums were organized in partnership with Utah Tech’s Institute of Politics, which also streamed the event on YouTube. That stream is posted below. The Senate candidate forum starts at 23 minutes, while the discussion with the 2nd Congressional District candidates starts at the 1 hour and 34 minute mark.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.