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Cedar City • Freshman Rep. Chris Stewart and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Luz Robles, staged a polite, respectful debate Thursday as might be expected between a pregnant mom and a former Air Force pilot officer and a gentleman.
It was so friendly that when Stewart was given the opportunity to ask Robles any tough question, he simply asked Robles whether her expected baby will be a boy or girl. It will be a girl, due in November not long after the election.
The pair even agreed on most issues, but showed deep differences on a few: immigration, the role of government, gay marriage and the cause of gridlock. Each candidate urged voters to study those differences, and base votes on them.
They debated at Southern Utah University in the second event sponsored by the new Utah Debate Commission. They face each other in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes most of Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Bountiful and rural western and southern Utah counties stretching to St. George.
On immigration, Robles pushed for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and achieving reform through one overall bill. Stewart opposed a pathway to citizenship, and seeks piecemeal reform focusing first on border protection.
Robles, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico and is now a vice president of Zions Bank, said, "You have to address the 11 million [undocumented immigrants] who are here that have U.S. citizen children, and may be married to U.S. citizens."
She said they should be offered a path to citizenship. "That's different than amnesty," and may include fines and requiring them to wait for years for citizenship. But never offering it, she says, makes those people second-class citizens.
Stewart said he prefers merely allowing the undocumented to stay with work permits, but never allow them to become citizens because they broke laws to immigrate. He said after the debate that most Latino leaders tell him that's not their preference, but they could live with it.
"The biggest problem is protecting our border," Stewart said. He added that once that is done to take away anxiety, other issues could be passed one by one. Robles wants passage of reform in one bill, such as the Democratic-controlled Senate passed last year.
The pair also differed on the role of government, with Stewart saying he wants less federal intrusion into personal and local affairs, while Robles saying she considers the federal government a good partner not to be feared on such things as public lands and education.
"The spirit of God is the spirit of freedom. That is the battle we are engaged in today. Will we protect our freedoms in a dangerous and chaotic world? Will we protect our freedoms from a federal government that doesn't want to help us, but many times wants to rule over us," said Stewart, who has written 17 books, some stressing that view.
About public lands, he said, "There is this presumption that people in Washington, D.C., care more about Utah than we do…. We are smart enough to do that. We care enough to do that. Let us manage these lands."
Robles criticized moves by some Utah conservatives to sue for state ownership or management of federal lands in Utah. "I think we can be more responsible in the rhetoric we use on this issue. I don't think it's us against them."
She added that federal management of public lands so far "is what makes us so attractive to tourism." She said tourism and the outdoor recreation industry could be hurt "if we privatize or send [control of public lands] to the state when we don't have the resources to take care of it."
The pair differed sharply on gay marriage.
"I think it an issue of equality," Robles said in support of gay marriage. "I will continue to support equality for all Utahns."
Stewart said, "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. That is my moral teaching. That is my faith teaching. I don't know how I could possibly turn my back on that."
They also differed on the cause of government gridlock, and the lack of federal budgets. Stewart said House Republicans have passed balanced budgets, but said Senate Democrats won't pass them or compromise.
Robles said she has learned as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican Legislature how to work with the other party to get things done, and said it is time that Congress learn the same lesson.
The candidates did agree on a wide range of issues from education to energy and foreign policy and said afterward that they are glad the debate shows such agreement.
"It's reflective of America. Most people are in the middle," Robles said.
Stewart said, "I think that if you agree with someone, the responsible and reasonable thing to do is point out that we are not in disagreement on every issue. I think people in the state appreciate that."
Third-party candidates excluded from the debate protested again at the debate. The debate commission includes only candidates who achieved 10 percent voter support in polls, and no third-party candidates made the cut.
So Constitution Party candidate Shaun McCausland and Wayne Hill, the Independent American Party nominee, wore duct tape on their mouths to protest that they were silenced.
"When you run in a third party, you don't have enough money to start spending until near the election. Then they exclude us saying we don't have enough support yet," McCausland said.
Upcoming Utah Debate Commission schedule
Utah attorney general • Sean Reyes, Charles Stormont, Wednesday at 6 p.m. TV: ABC4, Fox13, KBYU, KSL, KUED, KUTV. Radio: KSL. Live-streaming: http://www.sltrib.com
3rd Congressional District • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Brian Wonnacott, Oct. 7, 6 p.m. TV: ABC4, KBYU, KSL, KUED. Radio: KSL. Live-streaming: http://www.sltrib.com
4th Congressional District • Mia Love, Doug Owens, Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. TV: ABC4, Fox13, KBYU, KSL, KUED, KUTV. Radio: KSL. Live-streaming: http://www.sltrib.com