Monday was the last in the four-debate series cosponsored by the Alliance for a Better Utah Education Fund and the John R. Park Debate Society from the University of Utah. The debate was between Republican Bruce Cutler and Democrat Christine Passey, running for Utah House District 44. It represents the second rematch in our series and this one is sure to be a nail-biter. In 2014, now Representative Cutler beat Christine Passey by 53 votes after two weeks of recounts. An emotional rollercoaster I’m sure they’d rather not relive, but one they might be riding again in a few weeks. If anyone reading this ever thought their vote didn’t matter, this is the race that proves every vote counts.
Christine Passey absolutely shines when discussing issues of healthcare, insurance, and Medicaid. In her introduction, she spoke of her autistic daughter, Skylynn, and their struggle to maintain an insurance plan that would adequately cover her care. Christine Passey then did what few, even in Washington, have: she took on the insurance lobby and won. Before she ever ran for election, she helped pass legislation to insure Utah’s children. Throughout the debate, she hit home the importance to vaccination, mental health, and disability care. And when asked whether criticism of the Utah’s recent (but small) steps toward Medicaid expansion is warranted, she said “absolutely.” She could not see herself saying “we did something” and having it be enough; that would be a “cop out” for Christine Passey. She at one point described herself as “just a mom mad that the insurance company told me they couldn’t help my kid,” but that simplification does her a disservice. Christine Passey is an angry mother, but she’s also a person who sees a problem and works relentlessly until that problem is inarguably solved.
Representative Bruce Cutler is delightful. He could sell a heat lamp to a Texan in August. When preparing for these debates, the candidates were asked to suggest the topics they would most like to discuss. Representative Cutler included “religious liberty” on his list. Most people react strongly to this topic; Republicans tend to get up in arms about the First Amendment, while Democrats get heated about legalizing discrimination. It is not what I would have suggested, but after his response, I understood why Representative Cutler did. He served on the judiciary committee that created and passed the Utah legislative compromise touted by both the LDS Church and the LGBTQ+ community, and described it as a “beautiful experience.” He drew a hard line, stating that “discrimination is not something we should be doing” period, but wanted all people to feel free to express their religious beliefs and have civil conversations about their disagreements. That is all he’s after. He lauded Utah’s legislation, which prevents housing and hiring discrimination. His remarks were without hate and showed deep respect for the protection of all ways of life, even those with which he might not agree.
I could write more than any of you would want to read about this debate (it was content-heavy and thoroughly excellent) so to save us all some time, I opted to detail what I believe was each candidate’s stand-out moment. Keeping on trend, I will encourage you to watch the ABU stream, read their live tweets, or tune into KCPW when they air the debate recording.
If you’re new to Utah (like I am) or not up on local politics, this debate answered any questions one might have about why this race was so close last election and why it probably will be again. It was highly competitive, and not in a lesser of two evils, they’re both equally dumb, kind of way. It was tight in a “wow the people of District 44 are lucky” kind of way. I’ve seen candidates on the national stage who are far less charming, articulate, and well-prepared. I turned in my vote-by-mail ballot earlier that day, which included a vote for a United States Senate candidate I’d trust far less than either Christine Passey or Bruce Cutler. Either of them could win this seat and do justice to their office. Honestly, I wish the Utah Legislature could have them both. This is what local politics should look like.
-By our ABU Education Fund intern, Dakota Park-Ozee