SALT LAKE CITY — Two teachers — one a veteran of state and national politics and the other a relative newcomer hoping to wipe the incumbent's chalkboard clean — are waging a fight for the seat in Utah's 1st Congressional District.
Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican and retired high school history teacher, is seeking his fifth-consecutive term as the House representative for northern Utah.
His opponent, Democratic contender Morgan Bowen, is an LDS seminary teacher at Sky View High School in Cache County's Smithfield. Other contenders in the race are Jared Paul Stratton, a Libertarian, and Kirk Pearson, a member of the Constitution Party.
Lagging the incumbent by 45 points in the latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll, Bowen knows he's a dark horse in the race to represent one of Utah's most staunchly Republican strongholds. But the former pest control man isn't letting that deter him.
"Two years ago I started watching the country go into full-blown decay, putting two wars on credit cards, putting our economy on the edge of a cliff," he said. "I thought somebody has to do something about it."
So, in 2008, Bowen ran as an Independent and challenged Bishop for the first time, walking away with only 30 percent of the vote in the general election contest.
"The issues now are even more magnified," he said, citing his reason to run again. "It's even worse."
At 45, Bowen has spent most of his professional career dealing with bugs, jumping into run the business his father established, Bowen Biosystems, which specializes in biological pest controls.
Two insect labs raised beneficial bacteria, predatory mites and other critters for farmers and gardeners seeking to abstain from chemical pesticides.
Bishop, who taught school for 34 years specializing American history and government, first took office in 2003 and serves on three committees: armed services, natural resources and education/labor.
Bishop also is the House chairman of the Western Caucus, which views federal policies by the Obama administration viewed as unfriendly at best and punitive at worst toward the West.
"In the long term, we've got to stop the consolidation of power, control and our tax dollars in Washington — and return the Constitutional principle of federalism — dispersing power back to the states and to the people, " Bishop said.
Eroding federal control that finds life in ever-changing regulatory policies or in the government "takeover" of health care is what needs to be addressed foremost, Bishop said.
Bishop, 59, added that the "one size fits all" approach by Washington, D.C., is chipping away at individual options.
"People need those options in their life," he said. "It's why we have 16 different kinds of Pringles that we can enjoy or 160 flavors of Campbell soup to try. You have to be able to craft policies that meet the demographic needs of each state."
Fourteen years, party platforms, political experience and taste in music are among the characteristics that separate the two men.
Bowen's YouTube site belts out "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister, while Bishop concedes his fondness for "The Guess Who," probably "dates" him — unfortunately in his view.
But both men share the same stance on the issue of illegal immigration, asserting first and foremost the United States needs to secure the borders.
While Bishop voted against Obama's health care reform package, Bowen, too, says the Affordable Care Act is in need of "serious reform."
Both say they recognize the need to preserve Utah's pristine landscapes, but say development and access can be achieved without sacrificing the state's natural treasures.
Bishop says that land use decisions are best made by those closest to the actual ground — locals — "not by bureaucrats in some federal building basement in Washington."
Bowen, pointing to Utah's vast reserves of fossil fuels and minerals extraction, said the state should "carefully balance the need to continue to use these resources while encouraging protection for Utah's natural beauty."
He added that Utah's long tradition of ranching on public lands and growing ATV population should not be uses that are hindered, but rather addressed in "sustainable ways."
Both men, too, say they are willing to reach "across the aisle" to get things done, with Bishop pointing specifically to his role on the Armed Services Committee as an example where bipartisanship is the practice, not the exception.
Bishop stresses the importance of continuing to cultivate the viability of Hill Air Force Base, which he says is at the epicenter for augmenting growth in the commercial aerospace industry and setting new standards in Air Force aviation efficiency — such as combining a full-time tactical wing with a reserve unit.
"There are so many unique programs at Hill and such a good work force," he said, adding that with the base poised to receive two squadrons of the F-35 stealth fighter, "Hill is on solid ground."
Bowen argues for change, going so far to call for an audit of the Federal Reserve because of its propensity to print paper when the economy takes a nose dive.
"They can print a trillion dollars at a stroke of a key on the computer," he said. "They can create money out of nothing."
In conversations, Bowen is passionate and direct, and on paper, he points to his ability to quickly "synthesize" complex ideas and translate them in plain language.
It was probably that direct style that helped him early on with testing out of high school at age 15 in California, and subsequently to become the youngest student-body president at Merced College at age 17.
"People want to be heard, understood, and valued," he said. "They also want plain answers as to what is going on."
Bowen describes himself as a fiscal conservative, pointing out that he is not so much "conservative as I am cheap. People are ripping off the taxpayer because they can … the government is being used as a cash cow. We are in this very insane time economically."
In several instances, Bowen has lashed out at Bishop, accusing him of "corporate cronyism," and being a part of a Congress that is up "for sale."
"When it is up for sale the taxpayers never win," he said.
He voices concern over lavish earmarks, no-bid contracts and money corrupting the political system.
While Bishop has raised $211,000 in this current election bid, Bowen's campaign chest comes in at under $20,000.
"That is the kind of way I am rolling on this one," he said. "As much as I would like to win … if you elect me this is one congressman who is not going to be a political prostitute."
Bishop, in turn, counters that Bowen's allegations of the incumbent being part of "good old boy" system where dollars buy influence doesn't apply to him.
"It would be relevant if it was someone who had raised a lot of money or spent a lot of money," in the campaign, Bishop said. "I am the least wealthy member of our Congressional delegation. If collecting money was a motivating factor, I wouldn't be here."
Bishop also rejects the notion by Bowen that he is part of some power-hungry structure back in Washington, D.C.
"My goal has always been to leave here with less power than when I came. If I can do less to you than when I first arrived, then I have accomplished something," Bishop said. "I want to be able to say we really have devolved authority back to the people and local governments where it belongs. We've not reached that point."
Name, party: Rob Bishop, Republican incumbent
Residence: Brigham City
Wife: Jeralynn, five children
Occupation: Retired school teacher of 34 years, seeking fifth term in Congress
Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, University of Utah
Political experience: 16 years in Utah State Legislature, including stints as Majority Leader and House Speaker; current member of Armed Services, Natural Resouces and Education and Labor committees. Current House chairman of Western Caucus
Tidbit: Once active in community theater, avid baseball fan and season ticket holder of the Salt Lake Bees
Name, party: Morgan Bowen, Democratic
Residence: Hyde Park
Wife: Kristen, six children
Occupation: LDS seminary teacher at Sky View High School in Smithfield, former CEO of Bowen Biosystems
Education: Master's degree in American studies, Utah State University, Logan.
Political experience: Youngest student body president elected to Merced College in central California, legislative intern for former Rep. Richard Lehman, D-Calif.; member of Action Against Poverty, consultant for Friends of Africa, a humanitarian group.
Tidbit: Served as director of the Association of Applied Insect Ecologists and director of the Association of Natural Beneficial Producers
e-mail: [email protected]