OREM — Despite significant differences in how each candidate sees the role of the federal government, there was little friction in Tuesday's 3rd Congressional District debate between Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and Democrat James Singer.
About the only spark came when Singer suggested voters might be better off electing him because Democrats are more likely to take action on immigration in Congress.
He cited President Donald Trump's "hateful and divisive" immigration policies, such as separating children from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico, something that Curtis also criticized as out of harmony with Utah values.
But Curtis also said "it's easy and in some cases appropriate to pin this on the president, but the reality is this falls on the shoulders of Congress because we have not acted. We could have solved this."
The former Provo mayor said not being able to get his congressional "colleagues to coalesce around anything meaningful" on immigration has been one of his greatest frustrations since taking office late last year after winning a special election.
Singer, a sociology professor at Salt Lake Community College, responded with a pitch to voters in the district that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties as well as much of eastern Utah.
"I think this is where it might make sense strategically to vote for someone like myself," he said, promising to promote better policies to Democratic leadership. "So far, as John Curtis has been talking about, his colleagues aren't ready to do that."
Curtis said neither party in Congress is doing what needs to be done.
"This is not a Republican issue. This is not the failure of the Republican Party. This is the failure of Congress. I've seen just as much resistance from my Democratic colleagues," he said. "They all have their agenda and they all have their reasons."
Singer, who is Navajo, pointed out the irony of talking about immigration as an indigenous person. He said immigrants should be welcomed as "future Americans," not forced to live in the shadows as his Venezuelan wife once did.
Curtis cautioned that the United States "can't just open the doors and let anybody in to our country. We've got to be more thoughtful and methodical about it." He said more resources are needed to protect the nation's borders and process immigrants.
The candidates also differed on the $1.5 trillion tax package pushed by the president and passed by Congress last year. Curtis called it "a very important piece of legislation" and said he bristles when it's described as a tax cut for the rich.
But that's how Singer sees it. He said the tax cut is another example of "major giveaways have been given to those lazy loafers at the top while hardworking-class Americans and those in the middle class are bearing the brunt."
Curtis said he supports a second tax cut proposed by Trump but Singer said it has come up because the "trickle down" package isn't working. "Taxes are an investment," Singer said, the price of being a beacon to the rest of the world.
The candidates also split over other issues, including health care.
Curtis labeled the recently repealed individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act "one of the most regressive taxes" ever and warned government can't afford to provide coverage to everyone.
Singer, however, said he supports a single-payer system and that health care should not be considered a commodity because it has life and death consequences as well as signficant financial impacts.
There was some agreement between the two during the hourlong Utah Debate Commission match-up on the Utah Valley University campus over whether Trump should be impeached if Democrats take control of the House in November.
"If you follow down the road of impeachment, you are undoing the will of the people," Curtis said. "The bar for that has to be so incredibly high. We undermine our entire democracy if the will of the people can be undone."
Singer said he agreed.
"I think this issue has specifically been used as a way to divide us as a country," he said. If elected, "this is something I want to make sure we try and smooth over. I know people are upset about Donald Trump and what he represents."
But while there may be reasons to look into the president, Singer said both parties need to work together to unite the country, not allow it to be split by elites and "talking heads."
Curtis jumped in and thanked Singer for having "handled this campaign in the same way he just articulated in that answer. And I want you to know I've appreciated that."
The debate moderator, BYU political science professor David Magleby, praised the participants afterward for their civility.9 comments on this story
"This is the crispest debate that we've had," Magleby said. "They didn't choose to spar about unnecessary things, which allowed us to get to more questions." He said it was "a model for what we ought to be having."
Voters in the 3rd District elected Curtis in a special election in November 2017 to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who resigned his seat and became a Fox News contributor.
Besides Singer, United Utah Party candidate Tim Zeidner and Independent American Party candidate Gregory Duerden are also challenging Curtis' bid for what would be his first full two-year term in office.