John Curtis of Utah’s Congressional District 3, faced his constituents in three back to back town Halls scheduled throughout his district on Saturday. I attended the one in Draper at the City Hall from 5:00 pm to 6:30. I walked in midway through a conversation about immigration. Curtis said that the House and Senate are currently on their way to significant legislation on immigration. While he gave no specifics, he said the bill “bubbling up” in the House (HB4760) is more conservative and the one in the Senate (not numbered yet), more moderate. On Monday night, the US Senate will begin debating various aspects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In September, Trump ordered an end to the to the DACA program created by Obama by executive order, but gave Congress until March to codify its protections for these individuals, if any.
Curtis took a wide range of unscripted, across the board, uncensored comments and questions from the audience, scrapping his prepared powerpoint and instead allowing the constituents drive the content of the conversations.
He made vague but generally positive comments about the recent Tax reform. And when pressed on his concerns about the increasing trade and budget deficits, he acknowledged he was “concerned.”
A constituent asked for Curtis’s position on Climate Change. Concerns about climate change were brought up at least five times by different citizens throughout the 90 minute exchange. He was pressed for his position on carbon taxation and acknowledged that in his ten weeks in office, he simply did not have enough information yet to form an opinion. He defended the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord saying it was deeply flawed. Sewell jumped in and asked him to clarify how it was flawed. Curtis said that the United States was the only country being asked to make sacrifices. When asked if he had seen any legislation addressing climate change and Curtis said, “No.” The gentleman asked him if he acknowledges climate change exists and if he thinks human activities are making it worse. Curtis premised his answer by saying that the one way to separate a room is to mention climate change. Audible grumbles from the crowd were murmured in what seemed to disagree with his implication that there is a debate about anthropogenic climate change anymore, even among his republican constituency. The shear number of questions on the topic indicated that it is a concern held by the majority of those in attendance. Curtis said he does believe the climate is changing…BUT he qualified, “I just don’t know to what effect humans are causing it.” The crowd became noticeably displeased with his response, and he moved on to the next question.
Navajo activist Cassandra Begay took a full fifteen minutes to address what she describes, “a lack of acknowledgement to us, as tribes” in lands policy. She described how she was admonished by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year and was condescendingly told, “Be nice, don’t be rude!” as she confronted him about not meeting with Tribal authorities regarding the 85% land reduction ordered by Trump. She said that indigenous tribes have been here longer than anyone, far longer than the Mormon pioneers. She explained that failing to protect the land for their uses is the same as denying someone their own religion; it puts limits on the practice of spirituality. “Why is it OK for you to have your church and we can’t?” asked Begay. She continued to grill Congressman Curtis for his legislation HR4532 which seeks to write into law Trump’s decision to dismantle bears Ears and create two smaller monuments out of 15% of the 1.35 million acres without consulting Utah tribal leaders. She asked if he even knew the five Utah tribes. He did not. But, he did agree to meet with leadership from the Ute, Paiute, Goshute, Shoshone and Navajo Nations on Monday, making him the first federally elected official to visit the reservation since Robert Kennedy. Curtis’s staff said, “[it’s] pretty shameful for our country; 50 years without an elected official visiting them… It should definitely be a condemnation of every former 3rd district representative & Senator from Utah.”
He was asked about term limits, whether he viewed social security as an entitlement or an insurance, defense spending, nuclear weapons, marijuana, adequately funding parks, and where we are on bumpstock regulation. Twice he was asked about gun safety regulation. He said, “I will support legislation that will make us safer.” He acknowledged there are loopholes that need to be addressed such as background checks at gun shows.
A woman was very concerned about climate change in that it reveals a more general sense of selfishness and arrogance on our part. One person complained that he has never been more frustrated and wants to throw everyone in government out. Curtis assured him good things are happening. He stressed the importance of facing his constituents in Town Halls, “never losing touch with you.”
He had one chance to list a series of what he views as positive accomplishments by the government with the expansion of CHIP and Community Health Centers. He was adamant that removing the individual mandate was important because it was “stifling innovation.” He explained a model of direct pay clinics and said that he was raised that insurance is for things you can’t pay for. The crowd applauded. He insisted single payer is a disaster to which there was backlash with someone in the audience who yelled, “How come its ok for every other developed country?”
At a time when most Utah politicians are trying their hardest to not be confronted in public by their constituency, John Curtis gets it right. By the end of the night, everyone had a pretty good idea of where he stands on the big issues confronting our state and nation, but more importantly, he had to have left there with a much better sense of where we stand.