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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Democratic challenger Donna McAleer shake hands before the Utah Debate Commission's 1st Congressional District debate at Weber State University on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Ogden.

OGDEN — Contenders for Utah's 1st Congressional District had no shortage of weighty topics to cover in the inaugural debate Tuesday night organized by the Utah Debate Commission.

Washington gridlock, immigration reform, control of public lands, gun laws and the Affordable Care Act were among the thorny and politically controversial issues debated by Republican incumbent Rob Bishop and Donna McAleer, his Democratic challenger.

The televised debate at Weber State University's Shepherd Union Building was the first event for the commission, which was formed about a year ago and grew out of the recognition and need for fostering voter engagement and education on candidates and the issues.

"I think the candidates did a great job," said Nena Slighting, commission director. "For our first event, this was a great success."

Questions on a wide range of topics were submitted by voters via the organization's website, utahdebatecommission.org, which then live-streamed the hourlong event and broadcast it during prime time.

McAleer, a West Point graduate who challenged Bishop for his seat in 2012, repeatedly slammed the incumbent for his role as a "guardian of gridlock" and inflicting $30 million in costs to Utah during the government shutdown.

"Given the present gridlock in Congress, we need people who know how to work together and deliver results," she said.

Bishop, for his part, made no apologies for laying blame at the doorstep of the Senate, and particularly at the feet of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for the stalemate that persists in Washington.

"The stoppage in activity in Congress is not really a partisan one. It is one between the two Houses in Congress. … I think there is a good deal of effort in the House to reach across party lines and get things done," he said.

The two differed sharply on issues like gun laws, control of federal lands and Utah's air quality.

• On the federal public lands debate, Bishop said: "The state of Utah is far more competent" to make decisions on what happens on public lands. If given the choice between letting Washington decide or Utah, Bishop said, "I choose the people who live here."

McAleer, in contrast, said the lands belong to all Americans, not just Utah residents.

"It is a historical fallacy and myth to think that these lands were owned by Utah," she said. "They never were."

• On gun laws: "Society is not more secure with more restrictive gun laws," Bishop said.

"We need to talk about responsible gun ownership," McAleer said, adding she favors background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines.

• On Utah's air quality: "We need regulation because we don't do it ourselves," McAleer said. "We can't continue to make excuses," she said, noting the controversial medical waste incineration plant, Stericycle, needs to be booted from the state and reforms are needed to address the growing ozone problem in the Uinta Basin.

Bishop countered that air quality is better in Utah than when he was growing up, and reductions in particulate matter have been achieved through the competency of the state agency, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which should be left to do its job.

The next commission's debate for this 2014 general election cycle is set for Thursday at Southern Utah University featuring Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and Democratic challenger Luz Robles, a member of the Utah Senate.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16