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Ogden • Perhaps not surprisingly for a West Point graduate and former Army officer, Democrat Donna McAleer launched a vigorous attack against Rep. Rob Bishop in a debate Tuesday. She called him a "guardian of gridlock" who helped shut down the government last year.
Six-term-incumbent Bishop defended himself, saying he protects Utah values in Washington, and is about to become chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, which would give him power to solve longtime gridlock over federal lands management.
It made for a lively event at the inaugural debate sponsored by the new Utah Debate Commission held at Weber State University. Bishop and McAleer faced each other two years ago, and Bishop won by a nearly 3-1 margin in the 1st Congressional District, which covers northern and eastern Utah.
"We've had 12 years of Representative Bishop in the House. It's time to give this guardian of gridlock a well-deserved retirement, and put somebody in there who's actually had to deliver results," McAleer said, charging that Bishop helped fuel last year's 16-day government shutdown.
Bishop blamed the shutdown mostly on Senate Democrats, and said he works in a bipartisan way to protect the conservative values of his district. "I am proud to be one of the voices standing up for the principles we have here in Utah."
He also said he could soon achieve extra power to better help protect Utah.
After the debate, he said, "The actual reason I'm running is I'm in line to become chairman of the Resources Committee," which oversees public lands. "Seventy percent of the Utah is owned by the federal government. That's significant." Bishop said that power could help him end gridlock over those lands.
"When I'm done with that job, I'm done," and won't run again, he said. "I'm not going to be there forever." Republicans have a six-year limit on committee chairmanships.
McAleer fumed that Bishop blamed last year's shutdown on Senate Democrats. "He's blaming the Senate. He's blaming [Majority Leader] Harry Reid," she said. "The bottom line is our elected officials need to come together to find common ground. And he's not doing that."
The pair sparred on a wide variety of issues from public lands to gun control, immigration and air pollution.
Bishop said he is working to give Utahns more power over the management of federal lands here.
"It's an issue of who actually decides, someone who lives here or someone who lives in Washington. I choose the person who lives here," he said. "Anyone who says Utahns are not competent to make those decisions is just whistling in the dark."
But McAleer said, "Those public lands are not owned by Utahns. They are owned by people in Des Moines, Iowa; in Boston, Mass.;, and Tallahassee, Fla." and others nationwide.
She said wise federal protection of beautiful areas in national parks and monuments brings $600 million in tourism to Utah annually, and created a thriving outdoor recreation industry.
On whether more gun control is needed, Bishop said, "Society is not more secure with more restrictive gun laws, and [the right to bear arms] is an individual right of self defense" guaranteed by the Constitution.
McAleer said, "I think it's a little too easy" to buy guns. "I think we need mandatory background checks, and we need to ban assault rifle and high-capacity magazines. If you want to shoot these things, join the military. Join the police and be trained," which she said she did as a military police officer.
On immigration, McAleer said, "Our immigration system is broken, and action by Congress is unacceptable," and doesn't deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants here. "People deserve a path to citizenship."
She noted that her mother fled Nazis in Hungary, and her adopted siblings are from the Philippines and Korea so she sees how immigrants love and help the nation.
Bishop, meanwhile, said immigration should focus first on securing the border to lower the "anxiety and anger" on the immigration, which he said could lead to step-by-step reform instead of one large bill as pushed by the Senate.
He said such a large bill will fail "because it gives everyone something to hate."
On air pollution, McAleer said she is tired of seeing Utah being portrayed as having the nation's worst air during winter inversions. She welcomes tougher federal regulation to help clean the air here.
Bishop said, "Utah's air is now and always was, and probably forever will be, a product of its geography" that traps air in valleys in the winter. He said Utah officials have taken an aggressive role to clean air. "The one thing that will harm that work from taking place is to allow the federal government to come in and preempt."
As a conclusion, McAleer said, "It time we get our country back on track. That's a track that's not left, not right, but one that blazes forward for a stronger, brighter future for Utah and the United States."
Bishop said, "I'm looking forward very much to going back there and trying to bring people together to solve the issues."
Two third-party candidates who were excluded from the debate protested outside before it began. Libertarian candidate Craig Bowden and Dwayne Vance, candidate for the Independent American Party, said excluding them contradicts the mission of the Utah Debate Commission to inform voters.
The commission said a third-party candidate had to reach 10 percent voter support in its poll to earn a spot in one of its televised debates. Neither made that cut.
Upcoming Utah Debate Commission schedule
2nd Congressional District • Rep. Chris Stewart, Luz Robles, Thursday at 6 p.m. TV: KBYU, KSL, KUED. Radio: KSL. Livestreaming: sltrib.com
Utah Attorney General • Sean Reyes, Charles Stormont, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. TV: ABC4, Fox13, KBYU, KSL, KUED, KUTV. Radio: KSL. Livestreaming: sltrib.com.
3rd Congressional District • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Brian Wonnacott, Oct. 7, 6 p.m. TV: ABC4, KBYU, KSL, KUED. Radio: KSL. Livestreaming: sltrib.com
4th Congressional District • Mia Love, Doug Owens, Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. TV: ABC4, Fox13, KBYU, KSL, KUED, KUTV. Radio: KSL. Livestreaming: sltrib.com.