Chris Caldwell, The Spectrum
2nd Congressional District candidates Shireen Ghorbani and U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart participate in a debate, Monday, Sept. 17, in St. George, Utah.

Monday night’s debate between 2nd Congressional District candidates was a welcome show of civility ahead of what is anticipated to be a cutthroat midterm election across the country, and it’s a model voters should look to as they narrow their choices ahead of Nov. 6.

Democrat Shireen Ghorbani and incumbent Republican Chris Stewart squared off in a debate that put the focus squarely on the issues. It was devoid of the personal attacks and accusations on display during the 2016 presidential debates, and it avoided the sludge packed into most soundbites emanating from Washington, D.C. In short, it highlighted the differences (and similarities) between the candidates.

That’s not to say it wasn’t rousing. The candidates made clear their opposing views, particularly during questions regarding threats to national security and the appropriate way to reduce deficit spending. They let their passions show alongside their disappointment with aspects of the other’s platform or actions, but all was done with respect.

The heart of a political debate should focus on policies, issues and laying out a vision for the candidate. It’s a chance for voters to discern how a candidate will represent their interests and how he or she might act in a given situation. The last thing a debate should be is a circus of tribalism. Here, the two candidates receive good marks.

Regrettably, certain members of the audience were less respectful, at times booing, shouting or cheering despite the clear ground rules established by moderator Doug Wilks, editor of the Deseret News. It’s also too bad the night ended with the arrest of a man who took the stage to shout his own view on a topic.

What’s one debate in sea of political discourse? Admittedly, not much. But as editor Yoni Appelbaum describes in a recent Atlantic article, democracy is an acquired habit, one that develops over time through practice and repetition. Using that reasoning, America has allowed too many repetitions of poor dialog to subtly replace the norms of civic engagement. One civil debate is a repetition in the right direction. And more will follow, thanks to the work of the Utah Debate Commission and its media partners.

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Ahead of the elections, both Utah voters and candidates for office should reject the temptation to say they are too divided to deal with controversial issues. The health of democracy depends on an open marketplace of ideas where participants feel heard and valued, and through debate, those ideas take shape and transform into policies. Without respect, however, those ideas only calcify one’s preexisting beliefs. Utah needs more than that.

Debates for Utah’s congressional candidates will continue through the month of October. Visit utahdebatecommission.org for the dates and times of upcoming events or to submit a question to the candidates.