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St. George • Sen. Orrin Hatch faced his top two Republican opponents in a debate here Monday night.

Hatch, former state Rep. Chris Herrod and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist took questions for more than an hour from members of Washington County Republican Women, which sponsored the debate at Dixie State College.

Herrod and Liljenquist stressed that the country is at a crossroads and it is time for a new generation in leadership, indicating that after 36 years of serving in the U.S. Senate, it is time for Hatch to step aside.

Hatch countered that his tenure has put him in line to become chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which controls 60 percent of spending including funding for Medicaid and Social Security.

"It's probably one of the most important committees on Earth," said Hatch, adding that this will be his last term if he wins.

The candidates agreed that taking control of the nearly 70 percent of lands in the state owned by federal government and developing Utah's natural resources would help solve the budget woes for the state and the nation, while also honoring states' rights.

Herrod said land that is not leased for energy development prevents the nation from freeing itself of dependency on foreign nations for energy. Until the nation has the ability to develop domestic sources of energy, "we are not truly free."

Liljenquist said alternative forms of energy, like solar, cannot meet the country's energy demands better than fossil fuels.

"The [Utah] lands have been locked up for decades. … We have to have the feds get out of the way. We can't drive on sunshine and lollipops," he said.

Hatch talked about the huge reserves of oil and gas in Utah and Wyoming. He said a new Sagebrush Rebellion might be necessary to force federal land agencies to give those lands to the states.

He pointed to a huge oil field in North Dakota that is being developed because it is on private land. North Dakota was once like Utah, but eventually got control of its federal lands to its benefit, Hatch said. He said Utah should get similar control of its land and resources.

While the candidates basically agreed on most topics, including getting rid of President Barack Obama and his health care legislation, one topic that did bring some disagreement was whether personal liberties would be eroded with the recent approval by Congress of the National Defense Authorization Act, which comes up for consideration every two years.

The act is necessary to fund the military, and part of the latest bill codifies existing law, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning habeas corpus. Hatch voted for the authorization and said the legislation does not suspend habeas corpus. Hatch said he will always vote in support of U.S. troops.

"Our rights are protected," said Hatch drawing some boos from the audience.

Liljenquist disagreed with Hatch and said the law could be used by police to detain citizens without charges. "It should cause us all concern" he said. "It is what they do in China and what Pinochet did and King George. … The Bill of Rights allows us to face our accuser because of habeas corpus. We are innocent until proven guilty."

Herrod also had problems with the legislation and talked about time he spent working in the former Soviet Union and having friends whose parents disappeared in the night and were shipped to prison camps.

He said the problem with the bill, like much federal legislation, is lawmakers roll many bills into a single piece of legislation. Each bill should cover a single topic and not have other legislation attached to it, Herrod said.

"Then we wouldn't have this problem."