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Provo • It was the working-class progressive taking the fight to one of the most conservative senators in the nation.
Sen. Mike Lee and Democrat Misty Snow clashed on climate change, the Supreme Court, religious freedom and the 2013 government shutdown during their one and only debate Wednesday at Brigham Young University, sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission.
And they did it without raising their voices.
"We had a very nice discussion on a whole lot of issues," said Lee, who has a big lead in polls and has canceled a series of town halls in the state to spend his time helping Republicans in what are perceived to be tougher Senate contests elsewhere.
Snow, a first-time candidate with little political experience, said she accomplished what she wanted to, drawing a contrast between strong Democratic ideals and Lee's brand of conservatism in one of the most conservative states in the nation.
"Obviously the goal is not to be second place," she said, while acknowledging the hard path she has in Utah. Snow said getting more than a third of the vote would be progress for Democrats in the state.
The contrast between them was clear throughout the hour. Lee, who is seeking a second term, said he's seen no government proposal to fight climate change that wouldn't harm the economy. And instead, he said, the emphasis should be on strengthening the free market to encourage entrepreneurs to innovate on their own.
The senator also suggested loosening ozone-emission limits in Utah, where the geography makes the problem larger than in other places.
Snow saw a more robust role for the government and put it in dire terms, saying failure to act could lead to shorter life spans.
"The cost of not doing something is too high," she said, calling for the government to invest in clean-energy technologies, such as wind and solar, to nudge them along. Doing so, she said, would create jobs and reduce carbon emissions faster. To pay for this initiative, she suggested a national gas-tax increase, similar to the increase Utah levied in the past year.
Snow criticized Lee and other Senate Republicans for blocking a vote on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. She called it "shameful" that Garland has now waited longer for a confirmation vote than any previous nominee, and she said that if Lee has a problem with the judge, he should vote against him.
Lee said senators did act by deciding not to hold hearings or vote, defending their position that it should be the next president who gets to pick the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Garland, he said, would be a predictably liberal vote.
Snow said that Garland was as conservative a potential justice as a Democratic president would nominate, and she noted that Lee's Republican Utah colleague, Orrin Hatch, has praised Garland as pragmatic.
Relevant to the debate's location BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the candidates fielded a question about the tension between religious freedom laws and rights for LGBT people.
Lee said discrimination by government is far more dangerous than discrimination between people, and he touted his bill that would ban the federal government from pulling the tax-exempt status, grants or contracts from people or groups because they believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Snow, who is transgender, called that bill an act to "legalize discrimination in the name of religion," and she urged BYU to "treat all students equally, regardless of whether or not they are LGBT. I think that is the loving, humane, compassionate thing to do."
Perhaps their most aggressive disagreement focused on the 2013 government shutdown, in part led by Lee's insistence on a vote to strip funding for the Affordable Care Act, a vote Democrats refused to give him.
Snow called the shutdown "a shameful part of our nation's history" that cost Utah millions of dollars in tourism revenues tied to national parks and left federal workers in Utah without jobs temporarily.
The senator defended his stance as one that would have held off the Affordable Care Act, which he opposes and believes isn't working as billed. He also said he wasn't to blame the president was.
"President Obama shut down the government," he said. "You've been told otherwise by the media, but they are wrong." After the debate, Lee clarified that he believes Obama, in concert with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., were to blame because Reid wouldn't schedule the vote Lee wanted.
At the end of the debate, the two opponents thanked each other and reiterated just how stark philosophical differences were between them.
Lee said his goal is to "dismantle the concentration of power in Washington, D.C."
While Snow said: "I think we need somebody who wants to protect our most vulnerable citizens, including our women and children."