SALT LAKE CITY – The nearly-forgotten Democratic candidates running to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop met for their first debate via ZOOM teleconferencing technology on April 20.
The debate, which was especially targeted to delegates who will participate in the upcoming state Democratic convention, featured Jamie Cheek of Ogden exchanging ideas with Darren Parry of Logan on topics including the Coronavirus response, rural economic development, public education funding and others.
The event, artfully moderated by state Democratic Party Chair Jeff Merchant, was a model of civility but still revealed a wide gulf between the campaign styles of the two candidates.
Cheek tended to provide rapid-fire, well-rehearsed answers that were full of party-line sound bites. Parry’s answers, on the other hand, ranged from thoughtful to nearly heretical by Democratic standards.
When asked how she would have responded to the Coronavirus outbreak if she had been representing Utah’s 1st Congressional District in March, Cheek said she would have doubled down on Obamacare and espoused legislation to force health care insurers to cover the cost of both Coronavirus testing and treatment.
To the same question, Parry merely replied that he would have tried to listen to wise medical and scientific advice to ensure that decisions were made in the best interest of the people rather than the economy or any political party.
On the topic of funding for public education, Cheek argued that Utah’s children have been failed by government officials at both federal and state levels.
“The largest federal program used to to fund school through the United States is Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” Cheek explained. “That law provides funding for schools, but particularly benefits children living in poverty. In the 1st Congressional District, 66 of our schools receive Title 1 funding and the current White House budget calls for a 20 percent reduction in those funds across the board. Those cuts will harm our district, our children and put Utah even further behind the rest of the nation when it comes to funding public education …
“I think that Utah lawmakers have failed … because we have the mechanisms in place to fully fund our youth and to provide the very best educational opportunities for them. But Utah takes those monies and puts them in rainy day funds. And we don’t use them for teachers’ salaries. And we don’t use them for school improvements.”
“I’m not here to throw our Republican lawmakers under the bus,” Parry countered. “Although there’s certainly room for improvement, I think that Utah has done an overall good job of managing public education in our state … I think Utah has done more with less than probably any other state in our country. Our lawmakers take the issues of education funding seriously and they are trying their best to deal with those issues …
“As a congressman, I would make sure that any funds from the federal government for public education get moved to the state level for allocation,” Parry added. “After all, who is better qualified to make decisions about the education of our children? The federal government? Or the states? That way decisions are based on what’s best for Utah children, not the children in Massachusetts or anywhere else.”
Regardless of the outcome of their debate, Cheek and Parry face an uphill battle in the race for Bishop’s seat in Congress. No Democrat has represented the Utah 1st District in Congress since U.S. Rep. Gunn McKay left office in 1981.
But the Democrats will have one advantage moving toward the November general election. With only two hopefuls vying for the Democratic nomination, their party will likely have a single candidate after the online statewide convention on April 25.
By contrast, the Utah Republican Party will have at least two candidates on its June 30 primary ballot: Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson and Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt. Those candidates qualified for the primary ballot by each gathering 7,000 registered voters’ signatures.
Depending on the votes cast by GOP delegates in their upcoming online convention, up to two more candidates could be added to the Republican primary ballot.
Those candidates will presumably slug it out for the 1st District nomination for the next two months, possibly leaving scars that will divide the ranks of state Republicans prior to the November general election.