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Orem • The debate between the two leading candidates in Utah's 3rd Congressional District not only delivered the expected contrast in styles, but also a clash on climate change and the president's use of his executive powers.
And in the end, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican, gave Democrat Brian Wonnacott kudos for simply participating.
"I thank you for having the guts to be here," he said at the end of the one-hour back-and-forth organized by the Utah Debate Commission.
Wonnacott, a software engineer and political novice, filed to run for office on the last possible day. He's a soft spoken man, not accustomed to the short answers required in a debate setting. He paused at the beginning of each answer and at times seemed at a loss to come up with a response.
At the podium next to him was Chaffetz, a three-term congressman who has a soundbite prepared for most major issues and regularly appears on cable news shows.
The 3rd District is one of the more conservative districts in the nation. It has Provo and Orem at its core, but it extends north into Holladay, where Wonnacott lives, and all the way south to San Juan County.
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board, Wonnacott previously said he doesn't expect to win, but he did want to debate.
And when given the chance, he implored people not to vote a straight ticket, to learn about the candidates and consider voting for a Democrat.
In this one and only debate in this race, Wonnacott criticized the "do nothing" Congress and in reaction to a question, he ripped the Republican-controlled House for voting to sue President Barack Obama for his use of executive power, namely a delay of a provision of the Affordable Care Act.
"In fact, this whole suit is absurd. It is a waste of time. It is a waste of the taxpayers' money. It is unproductive," Wonnacott said. "It is the kind of behavior that speaks to what is happening in Congress today. Nothing is happening and everything is for show."
Chaffetz, who supported the lawsuit, said taking the dispute to the courts is the appropriate response to presidential overreach. He criticized Obama for trying to sidestep Congress, and act unilaterally. Wonnacott countered that Obama's actions were taken only because Congress failed to address the nation's problems.
The two candidates also had strong differences of opinion on climate change. Wonnacott said global warming is a real problem and that the United States can't drill it's way out of its energy problem. He suggested investing in alternative energy sources and pushing citizens to be conscientious with their personal energy use.
"I encourage everyone to be more efficient," he said.
Chaffetz said he believes climate change is "a farce" and while the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are in agreement that global warming is occurring, he says "the science is not conclusive." As evidence, Chaffetz pointed to the recent growth in the thickness of the
Brian Wonnacott">Antarctic ice cap. Chaffetz said he wants "an all of the above" approach that would include continued use of fossil fuels, while alternatives are developed.
Moderator David Magleby, a professor at Brigham Young University, started the debate by asking the candidates about the ebola outbreak in Africa and how the U.S. should respond to it.
Wonnacott said the way to keep the deadly disease contained is to track people who are coming from areas dealing with the outbreak, while Chaffetz suggested a more aggressive intervention that included using the Centers for Disease Control to help educate people in countries like Liberia.
On a number of issues, Chaffetz and Wonnacott agreed. They both applauded the pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong, believe that parents should know if their child's teacher is carrying a concealed weapon and that it's time to pass a system allowing states to tax purchases made on the Internet.
Tuesday at 6 p.m., 4th District candidates Mia Love, the Republican, and Doug Owens, the Democrat, will debate at KUED in Salt Lake City.