GOP candidates for Congress differ on compromise during Utah Tech forum

ST. GEORGE — There was agreement on the U.S.-Mexican border being a priority but disagreement on whether there was room for compromise in Congress.

Rep. Celeste Maloy shows a bracelet to younger constituents before a forum of Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District at Utah Tech, St. George, Utah, March 27, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

These were the main sources of unity and disunity between two of the three Republican candidates seeking to represent Southern Utah and the rest of the 2nd Congressional District.

Incumbent Rep. Celeste Maloy of Cedar City and army veteran/business CEO Colby Jenkins took the stage Wednesday night at Utah Tech’s Eccles Fine Arts Center in a GOP candidate forum hosted by the school’s Institute of Politics and Public Affairs and the St. George Chamber of Commerce. 

Richfield-based conservative talk show host Ty Jensen, the third candidate in the Republican primary, was not part of the forum that featured one-on-one question-and-answer sessions with Utah Tech Director of Politics Vince Brown.

In the separate sessions, there was a contrast between Maloy and Jenkins as far as working with representatives from the other party. 

“I certainly will negotiate under the protective umbrella of the Constitution, but I will not compromise,” said Jenkins, who was a special forces detachment commander during the war in Afghanistan. “There’s a difference between compromise and negotiation.

“Our founders intended for Congress to be a house of negotiation, collaboration, coalition building. And that’s what I did in combat in multiple locations with tribal chiefs, people who do not look like me. So I will negotiate, but I won’t compromise on our core constitutional principles.”

Maloy said in a closely divided Congress and country, not listening to the other side won’t get you far.

Colby Jenkins, far right, discusses issues with constituents before a forum of Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District at Utah Tech, St. George, Utah, March 27, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I sought regular feedback even from people I know disagree with me because I think representation is a sacred trust and a sacred honor,” Maloy said. “It turns out you can’t really get anything done if you’re a jerk to all of your colleagues. But if you’re willing to show up, do the work, support your colleagues when they have good ideas, then they’re willing to support you.

“And the only way you can do a good job of bringing home wins for your district is to work hard to be a good colleague, to make friends, to build relationships and to use all of that influence for the benefit of your own constituents.”

It’s just under four months after she took her oath of office after winning a special election to replace her previous boss, Rep. Chris Stewart, who resigned last year to care for his wife and her health issues.

For 30 minutes each, the candidates answered questions about how they would handle immigration, water and affordable housing, among other issues. Not every question received by Jenkins was received by Maloy. 

That was an issue for a supporter of Jenkins, who interrupted Brown and Maloy during their session, yelling that she wasn’t getting the same questions as Jenkins.  

Jenkins, who spoke at a local event featuring Gov. Spencer Cox in 2022,  is a director with Houston-based tech integration firm Crown Castle. Previously, he was CEO of St. George-based student mental health resource SchoolPulse and before that director of Utah Tech’s Atwood Innovation Plaza.  

Jenkins took shots at both votes Maloy has cast in her few weeks in Congress and her lack of voting in the 2020 and 2022 general elections

“If I’m going to stand up in front of constituents and ask for their vote, then I should care about basic civic duties that I should complete,” Jenkins said, noting that “leadership, accountability and judgment” are his reasons for running for Congress. “If I stand in front of my constituents, my potential voters, and ask for their vote, I better have voted.”

Rep. Celeste Maloy listens to a question during a forum of Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District at Utah Tech, St. George, Utah, March 27, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Speaking later, Maloy didn’t address the voting issue directly but said she is clear to her constituents on the reasons behind her votes in Congress.

“I agree that leadership and judgment are the most important reasons to run. And one of the big parts of leadership is making tough calls and then being willing to stand by those calls and explain what you’re doing and let the people that you represent be part of that and not hide from it,” Maloy said. “I don’t have a voting record and I didn’t have a track record. I spent my time fighting for Utahans against government. Now I have both have a track record and a voting record so you can see what I do to benefit the people in Second District.”

Maloy voted “yes” on the defense funding authorization bill in December and a vote earlier in the month to approve funding for the government that avoided a government shutdown. 

Jenkins said he would have voted no on both.

Maloy said as far as the government funding bill was concerned, it’s easy to say you would say no until faced with the reality of a divided Congress and a need to keep the government open. 

“When you’re in a closely divided Congress, you end up having bills that aren’t clearly conservative or clearly liberal,” Maloy said. “And this is one of those cases I felt like Speaker Mike Johnson, the most conservative speaker that I’ve seen in Congress, did a good job of going and fighting to keep a lot of those conservative wins that came out of the committee process in the bills. And it is our job as Congress to pass a budget.”

Colby Jenkins listens to a question during a forum of Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District at Utah Tech, St. George, Utah, March 27, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Jenkins said his opposition to the bill was the amount of spending,  not enough spending on the border and the fact it took the votes of Democrats to ultimately pass it. 

“I would not vote with more Democrats than I would Republicans when it comes to spending,” Jenkins said. “That’s black and white, that’s exactly what happened last week.”

He said his opposition to December’s defense bill, which was highlighted by a large pay raise for people in the military, was that it reauthorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another four months. 

That section, passed in the wake of 9/11, permits the government to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign persons located outside the United States. Jenkins said it has been abused to spy on American citizens.

“Conservatives had an opportunity to unplug that, but the Democrats in the Senate in the last hour parachuted that poison pill into the National Defense Authorization Act. With me on that issue, I will not allow the government to spy on any of you. Not one more day, let alone one more hour,” Jenkins said. “Senator (Mike) Lee voted no. Senator (Chuck) Schumer voted yes. Senator (Mitt) Romney voted yes. My opponent voted yes with the justification that I’m voting for the military and that is not OK.”

Later, Maloy defended the vote saying she agreed Section 702 needs reform but that four more months were needed to make sure Americans are still protected from terrorism. 

“I was at the Mexico border on Sunday in Arizona and I was talking to local law enforcement there. And one of the biggest concerns they have is that people are coming across that border who are from African countries that are known for terrorism and from China,” Maloy said. “That’s why we need FISA. FISA allows our intelligence agencies to surveil the groups that are sending these people across our border and figure out what it is they’re sending them here for.”

(L-R) Utah Tech Political Director Vince Brown questions Rep. Celeste Maloy during a forum of Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District at Utah Tech, St. George, Utah, March 27, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Maloy added that the defense vote is an example of how more can be done working with Democrats than just being against something because Democrats are for it. 

“They both want to reform Section 702 and they both want to keep the rest of FISA. We’re expecting to vote on that when we get back after Easter to close that Section 702 loophole,” Maloy said. “It’s something that Congressman Stewart worked on. He actually drafted all of the language that is the bill that we’re going to vote on. It’s something that’s really important to me. But we gave ourselves four months to get it right.”

As for the most important issues they aim to tackle in Congress, Jenkins said what he is hearing from constituents is the need for border protection.

“In three short years, our border has disintegrated before our eyes. We have left the world stage from leading,” Jenkins said. “When it comes to giving our leaders, our government, the opportunity to close the border, I will vote for bills that actually do that.”

Brown asked Jenkins about a bill voted down by Congress last month that would have provided $118 billion toward border security. Jenkins said he agreed with the vote, saying it didn’t come with more ways to “close the turnstiles” at the border. 

“When you provide more detention beds or more detention facilities, or more agents who simply become welcoming agents, you’re not fixing the problem,” Jenkins said. “We don’t need any more solutions. We need leadership. We need leaders. President (Joe) Biden, on the first day or first week in his office, he rolled back more than 90 actions that President (Donald) Trump had done to secure our border.”

The former president has been criticized for saying on social media that the border deal should be opposed because it would be a “gift” to his political opponents

(L-R) Utah Tech Political Director Vince Brown questions Colby Jenkins during a forum of Republican candidates in the 2nd Congressional District at Utah Tech, St. George, Utah, March 27, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

But Maloy said Trump wasn’t to blame for the failure of the border bill.

“I think that’s the kind of thing people say in D.C., but I don’t think it’s an accurate description of what happened before the former president even mentioned anything about that bill. It was already dead on arrival,” Maloy said. “The biggest problem I have with the bill is that it allowed 5,000 illegal crossings per day. That doesn’t really solve the problem. What we need is actual control of our border.

“We need to know who’s coming in and who’s going out and what they’re bringing with them.”

Maloy did not give an outright endorsement to the former president, but Jenkins wanted to make clear his support of Trump.

“I will fight so that President Trump can be elected,” Jenkins said. “I will vote for him. I won’t just say that I support him. I will actually vote for him.”

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