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Utah Senate Primary Debate: Trump, Debt and Immigration

Candidates discussed their ties to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, national debt and immigration during a debate on Monday night.
Left to right: John Curtis, Trent Staggs, Jason Walton and Brad Wilson debate at the PBS Utah studio (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool).


Rep. John Curtis, who represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, Trent Staggs, mayor of Riverton, Jason Walton, a businessman who has never run for public office and Brad Wilson, former Utah House speaker, discussed their ties to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, national debt and immigration during a debate on Monday night.

It was a less than lively debate until just before the end of the broadcast. With just minutes left, Staggs took a stab at Curtis after repeatedly saying he would go to D.C. to “take on the establishment.”

“On March 4 of 2020, Abbott Laboratories was awarded a federal grant. On that same day, John Curtis purchased stock in that company. This is a problem in Congress at a time when somebody should be looking out for their constituents. They end up looking out for their own profits,” Staggs said. “I want to ban the trading of individual stocks for members of Congress and their families.”

Staggs had the last closing statement, leaving Curtis without much time to respond. However, he did get a few words in before the debate ended. 

“You’ve accused me of a felony here tonight,” Curtis said. “You better have very good evidence and I’d like to challenge you to produce that evidence.”

After the debate, Staggs dodged questions from the press asking him to clarify whether he was accusing Curtis of insider trading. 

“I was not accusing him of a felony,” he finally answered. “What I said is that, on the same day that a company was given a grant, he traded stock in that same day, so I think that’s a problem.”

Support for Trump 

The candidates were asked about their thoughts on Trump, like whether he should become president and his calls for revenge and retribution following being convicted of 34 felonies.

Walton said it was sad and disheartening for Americans to see how persecuted Trump is.

“It’s a bipartisan issue, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, that the federal government is being weaponized by a current sitting U.S. President,” he said. 

Wilson argued it was important to elect Trump in November because tax cuts he placed are set to expire. He said the middle class of Utah cannot afford to let that happen. 

Staggs said the weaponization of the judicial system is “the biggest issue of our day.” 

He added he endorsed Trump last year, and was the first in the Senate race to do so. He questioned whether Curtis had even endorsed Trump. 

In response, Curtis said he is the only candidate who has directly worked with Trump. 

“We can all agree that President Trump, the degree of difficulty working with him could be high,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, I’m very proud of the way we navigated our relationship.”

Addressing the National Debt

The national debt sits at $34 trillion. Candidates were asked which options they would support to get the debt reduced: cutting down defense spending, Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements or the other option to increase taxes.

Curtis said he would not support increasing taxes.

“This is a bipartisan problem in spending,” he said. “We’re not going to make substantial changes until we deal with Social Security and Medicare, a major portion of the budget we don’t even vote on.”

Meanwhile, Staggs said there are many ways to cut the budget.

“We got to get rid of the Department of Federal Education — that’s $80 billion a year. Stop funding the U.N. — $20 billion a year,” he said. “We have hundreds of thousands of personnel that are part of the [United States Department of Defense]  in a clerical nature that we can get rid of and have no impact on national security.”

Walton said he would not raise taxes and that omnibus spending needed to stop.

“So we’re saddling our children with generational debt, and it is a horrible thing to be doing,” he said. 

Wilson said that D.C. should look at the Utah model, where the Utah economy has been “unleashed.”

“We’ve managed spending in remarkably disciplined ways, we know how to say no here, and we created an economy that’s given us not just the ability to have growth in revenues, but provide tax cuts over and over and over again,” he said. 

IVF and Birth Control Protections

The candidates were asked via an online question if they would vote to protect access to IVF and birth control. 

Staggs kept his answer short, saying yes to both. 

On the other hand, Walton said the federal government needs to stay out of the issue completely. 

“Federalism, again, is this concept the federal government needs to be small, and that the state government or authority which is every imaginable authority to be large, while the federal authority is very specific, very enumerated, and none of that has to do with birth control,” he said. 

Wilson said he completely agreed with what Walton said. 

Curtis said protecting IVF was an easy “yes,” but when it comes to contraceptives, “you have to get into the weeds.” He added he would need a lot more details before committing to an answer. 

“Tangible” Immigration Solutions 

The candidates were also asked what “tangible” things they could get done regarding immigration policy. 

Walton ranted about how Biden is “business partners” with Mexican drug cartels. He said Trump would solve the issue on day one by re-implementing the “Remain in Mexico” policy. 

“The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy means that when illegal immigrants come in, they give a cockamamie excuse as to why they need asylum and over 95% of them are rejected,” he said. 

The “Remain in Mexico” policy, or the Migrant Protection Protocols, is a 2019 Trump-era policy that required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration courts. 

Wilson said the border needs to be closed, and the “Remain in Mexico” policy needs to be reinstated and the wall needs to be finished.

“A few years ago, John Curtis said that ‘building a wall was pent-up racism,’” Wilson said. “I don’t believe that’s the case. I think building a wall is like having a good fence with a good neighbor.”

Curtis agreed that reinstating the “Remain in Mexico” policy was a solution. He added he had a bipartisan state-sponsored visa bill.

“We would actually give visas to governors around the United States that were separate from the federal pieces that they manage themselves,” he said. “They would be responsible for monitoring people that came into the state and how these pieces were used.”

On his turn, Staggs said immigration was a “huge issue.” 

“The solution is simple — build the border wall, ‘Remain in Mexico,’ e-verify and cutting off any benefits to illegal immigrants,” he said. “When you do that, they will largely self-deport, I believe, and the problem will start to correct itself.”


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About the Contributor
Vanessa Hudson
Vanessa Hudson, Editor in Chief
Vanessa is from Grand Junction, Colorado. She's a junior majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism and minoring in modern dance and political science. She is passionate about what she reports on, and she usually winds up writing about local politics and issues. When Vanessa isn't writing, you can find her trying out some new choreography, listening to public radio or watching Marvel and Star Wars movies.

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