4th Congressional District candidates Rep. Burgess Owens (R) and Darlene McDonald (D) debate just 11 days before election day

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Fourth Congressional District candidates Burgess Owens (left) and Darlene McDonald (middle) met for a debate moderated by James Curry (right). They discussed issues such as inflation, environment and abortion. (Courtney Denning)

Fourth Congressional District candidates Rep. Burgess Owens (R) and Darlene McDonald (D) met on Oct. 28 to debate each other for the first time.

Owens was invited to a previous debate on Oct. 12, but declined the invitation, leaving Darlene McDonald and United Utah Party candidate January Walker as the participants at that event. 

Walker was not invited to the Oct. 28 event and responded on social media with disappointment in the decision.

This debate was livestreamed from South Jordan and moderated by University of Utah political science professor James Curry.

Opening statements

McDonald began the debate by describing her disappointment with House Republicans voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2019. She presented her main campaign platforms as fighting for healthcare, social security, clean air and water.

Owens said he criticized the “leftist Democrat Supreme Court” for “kicking God out of school” and sports organization owners for deciding to “push their woke agenda” and “the left’s agenda” for using critical race theory to “replace a love of our country.”

Throughout the opening statement he underlined his belief in the power of the words “we the people.”

The economy and inflation

Owens’ outlined his solution to rising inflation as becoming energy independent in order to control gas prices and said he believes the Biden administration should be doing more to control inflation.

McDonald disagreed and said she believes the federal reserve is doing all they can to make up for economic hardships brought on by COVID-19. She also said she believes cutting taxes would greatly harm the economy, and raising taxes is the only action Congress could implement that would affect inflation.

“It’s going to take time,” she said, clarifying she does not support tax raises.

Healthcare

McDonald supports broader funding of healthcare and said the Affordable Care Act didn’t do enough to help Americans in need. She spoke of needing a “wellcare system” in addition to healthcare.

Owens highlighted the concept of meritocracy and said he supports the notion that people should be free to pay a higher cost for a better product. He said this free market is what drives competition and will lower costs.

Education

Owens denounced the educational systems that are in place in democratically controlled cities and said their test scores were much lower than those of majority republican areas.

“We have a democratic party with a labor union that cares more about bureaucrats than a kid’s education,” he said

He also said democrats support incorporating critical race theory into school curriculum, which he believes is a ploy to make students hate their history and become more divisive.

McDonald said republican controlled states often have the worst educational systems, and his descriptions of critical race theory are “disinformation.”

Drought

When asked about the environmental issues facing Utah, specifically the ongoing drought, Owens said Utah has the innovation required to solve this issue. He mentioned the Keystone Oil Pipeline and offered that a pipeline should be constructed to divert water from “water rich states” to areas such as Utah and the Colorado River.

In her response, McDonald said Owens voted against a bill that would have provided Colorado with water, and that a pipeline for water would be impractical. She said the solution is to encourage people to waste less and conserve more. “We have zero time to waste,” she said.

Abortion

Both candidates said they would not vote in favor of a federal ban on abortion. McDonald said the government should not be involved in a woman’s decision to receive an abortion, while Owens said he supports a state’s right to ban abortions.

“The life of the baby is important,” Owens said. “I’m proud to be in a state that believes in life.”

He brought up infanticide and said states like New York allow abortions to be performed after the child has already been born. McDonald protested and said this does not happen.

Election Fairness

McDonald reprimanded Owens for voting against the certification of votes in Pennsylvania following the 2020 election and Jan. 6 riot and said he was promoting the “big lie” of election denialism in favor of Donald Trump.

“I lived in Philadelphia for 25 years and they cheat,” Owens said in rebuttal. “Everybody who lives there knows they cheat.”

He also compared this issue to previous years when Democrats have doubted election processes or results, citing 2001, 2005 and 2017.

Closing Statements

Owens said he is proud to be a Utahn because of the commonly shared values of “faith, family, free market and education.” He said his plan for a potential two more years in Congress is to specifically focus on education and infrastructure.

McDonald said Utah needs a representative who will “show up” for them, reaching out personally to constituents. She spoke specifically to citizens who typically do not vote for democrats and said she will work with members of all parties to find solutions to problems.

“We have to be a one Utah,” she said. “If we do not become a one Utah, we lose Utah.”

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