OREM — Democratic challenger Stephen Tryon accused Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of putting himself and his party ahead of the country during a sometimes heated debate Wednesday.
Chaffetz, he said, mischaracterized event after event regarding Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails to get publicity for himself and undermine her candidacy for president.
"It's absolutely unconscionable," Tryon said.
Chaffetz, who heads the House Government Oversight Committee, told Tryon he would be in jail if he had done what Clinton did. Lady Justice, he said, is supposed to be blind but "seems to peek and see if it's a Clinton along the way."
"I've shown time and time again that I buck against my party. I do what's right. I drive forward on principle," Chaffetz said.
Tryon, a retired Army officer who worked at Overstock.com, and Chaffetz went after each other over Clinton, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, public lands policy and cyber security in the hourlong debate at Utah Valley University.
Chaffetz, a former BYU football placekicker and chief of staff to former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., first won election in the 3rd Congressional District in 2008. Tryon ran for Congress as an independent in 2014.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll in August showed Chaffetz with a 46-point lead over Tryon. The incumbent also has an enormous cash advantage, raising $1.2 million to the challenger's $42,132.
Tryon said Chaffetz sells only one side of every story, and that's why he tried to sell Trump before the recent revelations about the GOP presidential nominee's lewd comments about women.
"It shocked me that our congressman wouldn't make the call on Donald Trump before it was politically necessary," Tryon said.
Chaffetz said he liked the idea of Trump coming in as an outsider and that his policies are largely right. But, he said, he can't look his wife and daughter in the eye and say he endorses "that person."
Tryon said he supports Clinton, calling her a patriot and a good civil servant. Chaffetz said Clinton "lies, lies, lies," and Utahns are going to have to figure out who to vote for. The congressman declined to say how he would vote now.
The candidates differed on their views about government surveillance of Americans.
Chaffetz said he doesn't trust the government to gather information about citizens, adding that he knows what it's like to have the government come after him, referring to Secret Service agents peeking into files on him in a restricted database and sharing the information.
Tryon said he's fan of privacy, but he also likes the idea of keeping the nation secure. He said there's a need for national security agencies to track nonpersonalized data on cellphones and other electronic devices.
They disagreed on how do deal with NSA data leaker Edward Snowden. Tryon said he would pardon him if he were president. Chaffetz said Snowden should be prosecuted.
Chaffetz and Tryon also had divergent opinions on the proposed Public Lands Initiative.
The congressman called it a bipartisan approach that balances land preservation and economic development. Chaffetz said the seven Navajo Nation chapters in southeastern Utah support the plan.
"Part of the reason we're doing it is because we don't want Barack Obama to have the audacity to just unilaterally and offensively go and try to grab millions of acres and change the designation," he said.
Tryon said the proposal reminds him of the saying about a mackerel in the moonlight that both shines and stinks. "To me, the (initiative) stinks more than it shines," he said.
Tryon said Native American issues need to be resolved before talking about "how we're going to carve up public lands."
Chaffetz and Tryon did agree on several issues, including criminal justice reform, prompting the challenger to say, "I was really trying to avoid that tonight."
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3rd Congressional District
Birthplace: Los Gatos, California
Party affiliation: Republican
Education: BYU, communications degree
Political experience: Four-term congressman
Occupation: Public relations, political consultant
Family: Married, three children
Quote: "My job is not to be a cheerleader for the president. It's my job to hold him accountable."
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Party affiliation: Democrat
Education: West Point, Stanford University, master's in philosophy
Political experience: Ran for Congress as an independent in 2014
Occupation: Retired Army, business executive
Family: Divorced, one child
Quote: "I've learned that there are no perfect solutions. There are just good options implemented effectively by leaders who care about making things work."
Email: [email protected]