Stewart, Ghorbani Debate the Budget, Environment and ‘The Man in the White House’

By Nelson Lotz

On Monday night, Rep. Chris Stewart and Democratic challenger Shireen Ghorbani met at Dixie State University for the 2nd Congressional District debate. Throughout the debate, there was much consensus from Stewart, as he often begins his statements by agreeing with his opponent. However, there were also heated disagreements on issues such as the budget, the Lake Powell Pipeline and healthcare.

The debate was part of a series hosted by the Utah Debate Commission, which will host debates for the other three Utah congressional districts and the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Orrin Hatch. In a statement to The Daily Utah Chronicle, Utah Debate Commission co-chair Scott Howell said, “The debates promote news and not fake news, and will provide all voters the opportunity to determine who represents them best.”

The Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah hosted a watch party for students, faculty and the public. The institute will also host watch parties for some of the upcoming debates. When it came to the issues, the candidates had a lot to say.


Both candidates recognized the need for environmental conservation and protection. Stewart stressed the importance of protecting rural culture from that of the Wasatch Front and vice versa, as well as the need for personal responsibility, such as driving less to produce less pollution. On the other hand, Ghorbani stressed the importance of incentivizing good environmental action and the need to “hold polluters accountable.” When asked about the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, intended to provide water to residents of Washington County, Stewart said he supported it because people in the area approved the plan. This drew audible derision and boos from the live audience. Ghorbani stated that she wants to know more about the actual construction and maintenance costs as well as what effect the pipeline will have on water bills.


The candidates agreed that the cost of health care is a national crisis. Ghorbani said that she decided to run for office after seeing how one medical accident could lead to a family losing their entire financial savings when her mother was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. Ghorbani blamed a lack of congressional action for the health care crisis, saying, “Congress is bought by pharmaceutical companies.” Stewart blamed Obamacare and congressional Democrats. He called for a more affordable system and overall reform of Medicare. Ghorbani said Congress needs to rethink health care so everyone can afford it. She suggested allowing Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate drug prices.

The Budget and the Economy

Stewart and Ghorbani concurred that the deficit is a major problem, but once again they disagreed on a solution. Ghorbani suggested cutting back on spending for “endless wars” which have produced an outcome where the “Taliban is stronger than ever.” Stewart promoted the importance of military funding and said that instead, the U.S. needs to act more fiscally responsible, which is why he voted against multiple trillion-dollar spending bills. He also said that changes need to be made to the entitlement system. Ghorbani defended entitlements, calling them “earned benefits” that many people rely on. Instead, Ghorbani proposed removing corporate tax cuts and exemptions. Ghorbani also criticized Stewart for voting for the latest round of Republican tax cuts, which will raise the deficit to almost one trillion dollars next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Stewart defended his vote, claiming that the tax cuts have lead to a stronger economy with record high stock prices and record low unemployment rates.

National Security and President Trump

When asked what the greatest threat to national security is, Ghorbani said the “the person in the White House.” In response, Stewart said, “Trump is not the greatest threat to national security.” Rather, Stewart believes that China is the biggest threat due to its expanding military and economic hostility. Stewart also brought up examples of Russian and cyber hostility to the U.S. and cited his experience as a fighter pilot and as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Stewart emphasized military funding as a solution. Ghorbani decried President Donald Trump’s lack of productive international relationships and said that the U.S. must improve its diplomatic solutions so that it can defend against threats to all with its international allies. While much of the debate centered around Trump, he was only mentioned by name once by Stewart and not at all by Ghorbani. Ghorbani did say that she is troubled with the President’s conduct but wants anyone who is president to be successful for the American people. Stewart affirmed Ghorbani’s remarks and Ghorbani added that she believes Trump seeks out “those small things that divide us” and “does not represent our values.”

Election Interference

Both candidates said they believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election and said that we need greater protection from such interference. However, Stewart said he does not necessarily believe that Russia set out to get Trump elected president, but rather that it primarily wanted to undermine faith in the American electoral process.


Ghorbani stated she wants an immigration system with better border security and a pathway to legal residency or citizenship for those who are already here, and that we need a “compassionate and humane system that doesn’t ever believe that locking children in cages is ever a reasonable answer.” Stewart focused on having a smarter border security. Stewart said he supports legal status for DREAMers and attacked the Obama administration for putting children in cages.

Student Loans

Stewart supported allowing more free market competition in student loans to lower costs. Ghorbani supported lowering federal student aid interest rates and pointed to history to say that the free market would not lower interest rates.

Medical Marijuana

Stewart said he supports medical marijuana, but has concerns with the language of Proposition 2, which is aimed at legalizing medical marijuana in the state, and therefore does not support the ballot initiative. Ghorbani lambasted the Utah State Legislature for not acting on medicinal marijuana sooner and supports Proposition 2 despite having “serious concerns.”

The debate ended with excitement. During Rep. Stewart’s closing remarks, a man rushed the stage to grab his microphone and shout, “vaccines cause autism.” The man was escorted out and arrested.

The most recent public poll of the race was released last week by and shows Ghorbani trailing Stewart by 11 percentage points.

The U and all on-campus dorms are located within the 2nd Congressional District.

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