News analysis: Fact-checking finds holes in Utah 3rd District congressional debate


Just how correct were the facts and figures thrown around during during the debate on May 29 at BYU between Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and challenger, former Utah legislator Chris Herrod?

Rick Bowmer
GOP congressional candidate Chris Herrod. (AP Photo)

Students in the BYU Communications 308 Course, Journalism Research Methods, decided to find out, mentored by Prof. Joel Campbell. They attended the debate and researched facts and claims made during the debate as a class project. Here is what the students found:

Claim: Herrod says Curtis is out of sync on conservative values of the 3rd Congressional District voters.

Finding: True, but selectively biased when all the ratings are examined.

Herrod pointed out that Curtis only has around a 50 percent approval rating from the Conservative Review, but it could be easily argued that it was taken out of context. Herrod did cite the Conservative Review website when comparing Curtis, who scored 43, and Sen. Mike Lee R-Utah, who scores a 100 percent from the group. Lee is only one of four members of Congress that gets the Review’s perfect score and the second only to a freshman Pennsylvania congressman who has only been scored on one single vote.

Herrod failed to mention that Sen. Orrin Hatch comes in much lower than Curtis at 27 percent in the Review’s ratings and other members of Utah delegation, all Republicans, including Rep. Chris Stewart at 67 percent, Rep. Rob Bishop at 58 percent and Rep. Mia Love at 56 percent. There are dozens of special interest ratings of members of Congress. Selecting only this one seems unfair. Herrod didn’t tell the whole story about the numbers either, including ratings of other popular Utah politicians.

Claim: Curtis said the Gross Domestic Product rose 1.8 percent in Utah over 10 years.

Finding: Accurate.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the 1.8 percent raise took place from 2007 and 2017, a 10-year span.

Claim: Herrod says Utah’s 3rd District is one of the most conservative in the nation and John Curtis isn’t conservative enough.

Finding: Rings true, but the logic fails when applied elsewhere.

There are 16 more conservative U.S. congressional districts than Utah’s 3rd, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. However, according to Herrod’s logic, the most conservative districts should have a correlation to the Conservative Review score of its member of Congress. Utah’s 1st Congressional District, covering northern Utah, is more conservative leaning than the 3rd District, according to Cook Partisan Voting Index. Yet, seven-term Republican Rep. Rob Bishop only gets a 58 percent approval rating from the Conservative Review.

Using Herrod’s selective rubric, Bishop would be considered too liberal for his district as well. There is also another important element. Utah is not like other red states in significant ways. According to the New York Times, Utah is mostly conservative due to the influence of the LDS Church, specifically when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage. But it has taken a more moderate stance on illegal immigration, establishing a guest worker program and allowing immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. 

Rick Bowmer
U.S. Rep. John Curtis. (AP Photo)


Claim: Did Curtis once lead the Utah County Democrats?

Finding: Yep, that’s true.

Herrod questioned Curtis conservative credentials and said he was one as head of the Utah County Democratic Party. Yes, from 2002-2003 Curtis was head of the Utah County Democratic Party. He also ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Utah state Senate in 2000. “I didn’t really change my principles,” Curtis told the Salt Lake Tribune in June 2017. “But I changed where I was trying to make them applicable. Parties are important, but they’re not always first.”

Claim: Did taxes go up in Provo when Curtis was mayor?

Finding: Seems a bit of a stretch.

Herrod criticized Curtis for raising taxes while he was the Provo mayor but Curtis pointed out that as mayor he doesn’t have authority to raise taxes, but that power is in the hands of the City Council. Curtis also pointed out, after taking inflation into consideration, that Provo is collecting less property taxes than when he first got into office in 2010.

Claim: Herrod said Curtis spent $75 million on a bus system that Herrod opposed?

Finding: True, but not the whole story.

Curtis served as Provo’s mayor from 2010-2017. He is correct in saying that he was not leading the project when it first began in 2008 because he was not in office then. However, he was around for some of the funding decisions and ongoing decisions for the Bus Rapid Transit project.

Claim: Curtis said he believes his constituents are conflicted about Trump, but Herrod said that people are “warming up” to the president.

Finding: Curtis is right. Herrod needs to take Stats 101.

According to Utah Policy, the number of Utah voters who strongly approve Trump went up from 19 percent to 21 percent between 2016 and 2018. That difference could be well within in the margin of error for the poll, so Herrod can’t really claim a “warming” trend. However, the number of voters who strongly disapproved of Trump went up as well, from 35 percent to 40 percent. Certainly, the numbers support Curtis’ claim about voters being conflicted about Trump.

The students conducting this fact-checking project are Josh Carter, Makayla Hewardine, Melissa Larrocha, Paige Johnson and Sahalie Donaldson.

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