Utah’s 4th Congressional District Debate Continues on Despite Rep. Owens Absence


Xiangyao Tang

Rep. January Walker speaks in a 4th Congressional District debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 12, 2022. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Carlene Coombs, News Editor


Despite the noticeable absence of Rep. Burgess Owens, Utah’s U.S. Congressional District 4 debate continued on with Democrat Darlene McDonald and United Utah Party nominee January Walker facing off on many hot topic issues including inflation, women’s equality, higher education costs, abortion, immigration and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Wednesday night’s debate was held at the University of Utah with both candidates attempting to unseat incumbent Rep. Owens, a Republican, who withdrew from the debate just hours before it began. 

Owens announced on Wednesday in a video he would not be attending the debate objecting to the moderator being Lauren Gustus, executive editor of The Salt Lake Tribune. 

He cited what he called a “racist”cartoon published by The Tribune over a year ago. The cartoon referenced comments Owens made about an invasion of migrants coming to the U.S., comparing his comments to the Ku Klux Klan. 

“They are coming to your neighborhoods, not knowing the language, not knowing the culture and there is a cartel influence along the way,” Owens said in August 2021. “So be aware, don’t think this is a distance from you now, this is coming your way and it is done on purpose by a party who could care less about we the people.”

The Debate

When asked about finding solutions for the rising cost of higher education, McDonald stated she believes in funding higher education in the same way we fund primary and secondary education. 

Walker said she doesn’t believe the government has the resources “right now” for free higher education, but said using technology to find “misappropriated” government money would be a solution to allocating funding to higher education. 

Walker also stated technology, specifically blockchain, as her solution for other issues such as inflation and modernizing voting systems. 

McDonald and Walker both agreed on the need for more female representation in the legislature and better support for mothers in the workplace.

While discussing abortion, McDonald said the overturning of Roe v. Wade created “free states and un-free states for women.” 

“Women in un-free states will have their health and their lives in jeopardy,” she said. 

Walker argued that topics like abortion are used by both Republicans and Democrats to divide and manipulate Americans. She stated she does not believe that “the government should be in any individual’s body.”  

Rep. Owens’ absence

McDonald made several jabs at Rep. Owens for “not showing up” for his constituents, not just at the debate but throughout his time as a legislator. 

“We have many challenges that we are faced [with] here in Utah,” she said. “And those challenges require a representative that is going to show up and going to listen to the constituents of Congressional District 4.” 

McDonald, a black woman, addressed the statement Owens made while visiting the Southern U.S. border saying she took his statement “personally” and that his words mimicked those of the Ku Klux Klan. 

Walker also expressed her disappointment in the congressman’s absence, saying he has “displayed cowardice.” 

Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Christ Stewart and Rep. John Curtis released a joint statement on Wednesday supporting Owens’ decision to pull out from the debate.

Nahum Tadesse, political science and international studies senior at the U, said Owens’ not appearing at the debate was “disrespectful” to his constituents.  

“I think as a congressman, you have a responsibility to be showing up to events, especially like this where it’s a debate where you’re trying to convince the constituency to reelect you,” Tadesse said in an interview with the Chronicle after the debate.


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