Jim Hansen, the incumbent congressman from the 1st District, and Kenley Brunsdale, his Democratic challenger, were supposed to debate Monday at the University of Utah.
But Hansen was unable to attend because of his "committee assignments" in Washington, D.C., according to Ted Stewart, the chairman of the Public Service Commission and a former Hansen administrative assistant.So Stewart - who described himself as a friend of Hansen but not a paid campaign worker - took on Brunsdale himself at the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics.
And they spent most of their time talking about the federal deficit.
"Jim Hansen has been a strong advocate of reducing federal spending," said Stewart, who noted Hansen repeatedly votes against any bill that tries to balance the budget by increasing taxes.
Brunsdale, however, said the budget deficit is so out of control that it will take a combination of measures, such as a $2 spending cut for every $1 in new taxes.
"To say you can do anything about it without raising taxes is an absolute lie," Brunsdale said.
Brunsdale praised Hansen for voting three weeks ago for a House budget package, calling the vote a "temporary act of courage" on Hansen's part. On the latest package passed last week by the House, Hansen voted no, but only after he was sure it was going to pass, Brunsdale said. That way, Hansen could tell his constituents that he voted against raising taxes.
"It was the cheapest act of political opportunism I've ever seen."
Stewart countered by citing a newspaper article in which Brunsdale apparently contradicted himself in criticizing Hansen for his vote three weeks ago.
"I'm not sure where you're coming from," Stewart said to Brunsdale. "One week you said Jim Hansen should vote for it . . . The next week you criticize him for voting for it."
The two agreed, however, that the latest congressional pay raise was too large, though Brunsdale chided Hansen for voting against the raise but still taking it.
The two also disagreed on federal programs for poor children.
"For anyone to say the problem is going to be solved by another federal program is just going to lead to more problems," said Stewart, noting that every year, billions of dollars are added to such programs. He said the problems of children will only be solved when "the American family re-establishes itself as a priority" in society.
Brunsdale said he agreed that families need to be strengthened but said Hansen missed two critical votes: one that would have provided money for child care and another that would have secured parental leave. "Both were opposed by Jim Hansen. I would have voted for them."
After Brunsdale launched several unfavorable accusations charges against Hansen, Stewart told the audience to beware of candidates who misrepresent the facts to get elected.