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Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Lee and Bridgewater Debate in American Fork

Both candidates are conservative. Both spoke well and stayed on message. It was a good hour.

Format, Disclaimers, Etc.

This is the second of two blog posts about last evening's primary candidate debate in American Fork. The first post, like the first hour of the event, focused on candidates for Utah County Commission, Alpine School Board, and the US House of Representatives. This post, like the event's second hour, is wholly devoted to the two Republican candidates for US Senate, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater. Please note that in this, as in other races, there is a challenger from the other party (or parties) who will be on the general election ballot. But this event was for primary candidates, not candidates who already have their party's nomination. A similar event is promised sometime after the June 22 primary, featuring whomever is still standing.

American Fork City Councilor Shirl LeBaron moderated the second hour, as he did the first, quite smoothly and capably. I happen to know that he supports Tim Bridgewater, but there were no reminders of this in his moderating, which was impartial.

The format was slightly different from the first hour, because there were only two candidates involved. Questions still were submitted in writing by the audience, but 90 seconds were allowed for answers instead of 60 seconds, and three minutes allotted to opening and closing statements instead of two.

Again, I will not attempt a comprehensive account here, and I won't try to summarize and evaluate the key points of each candidate's campaign generally. Their views are well documented elsewhere (such as at Lee's and Bridgewater's campaign Web sites), and my own views of the race are readily available, too. For my part, I didn't hear any major, substantive revelations from either candidate tonight; both stayed on message. (That's not a bad thing.)

Questions, Answers, Statements

Bridgewater said in his opening statement that we need the voice of small business to be heard again in Washington, particularly in opposition to the insane orgy of taxing, borrowing, and spending. ("Orgy" is my word.) It's hard to disagree, and this message resonated well with last night's audience.

Lee said that the root of the problems is constitutional, that we need to pull the federal government back within the limited, enumerated powers granted in the Constitution. This will be the best answer to reckless spending and debt. It's hard to disagree here, too, and this message seemed to resonate even better with the crowd than Bridgewater's. Lee talked of building a coalition of constitutionally-minded senators, started with current Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina). He named eight more, in addition to himself, who he thinks can form an effective coalition of ten after this year's election. He thinks there will be ten more after 2012.

The two candidates' respective professions came up for some discussion. Bridgewater is a successful businessman. On one hand, again, he insisted, again, that the voice of business, especially small business, needs to be heard again in Washington. On the other hand, Lee noted that he (Lee himself) is the only candidate in the race who hasn't built businesses with federal largesse.

Noting that there are a lot of lawyers in the Senate, Lee freely confessed that lawyers have done a lot of damage in Washington. The wrong lawyers have been in power, he said, and sometimes it takes a lawyer to undo the damage. Bridgewater playfully suggested that we export all the lawyers to China, to inhibit growth there and restore our own. And in one of the better lines of the evening, he said, "You don't get a 2700-page health care bill from a businessman."

Asked to cite his three greatest Utah-related concerns which need to be addressed at the national level, Bridgewater listed cutting spending, immigration reform, and dramatic changes to our tax system, including repealing the 16th Amendment (which permits income tax) and replacing the income tax with a fair or flat tax which doesn't punish productivity. Lee listed out-of-control spending, noting -- astutely, I thought -- that incurring debt for future generations to pay is a way of taxing them without representation. He wants a balanced budget amendment which also limits government spending to 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. He cited the importance of reclaiming land owned or controlled by the federal government, of which more below. His third item was immigration reform, including ending automatic citizenship for babies born in the US to parents who are here illegally.

Asked to cite previous work building consensus, Lee noted that he grew up with five sisters and one brother. He also listed his work for Governor Huntsman, bringing the Legacy Highway litigation to a resolution that was somewhat favorable to the state. He said he finds that, if one can clearly demonstrate what the law requires, two opposing parties often turn out to be closer together than they first thought.

Bridgewater underscored the need not to compromise core principles while reaching political compromise and cited his work for the governor's office on education.

Asked to explain the major differences between the two candidates, Bridgewater said that they are differences in experience and approach. He emphasized his "real world" experience.

Lee said we need a senator in Washington who will get the federal government out of the way, not someone who is good at building things with federal funds (by which he meant Bridgewater). We need a destroyer, not a builder. "I'm a destroyer," he said. In some campaigns, coming up with such a label for oneself might be a faux pas; in our time and place, it probably helps. He spoke in some detail of his work as an attorney, pushing back against federal encroachment.

Asked what would be the first bill he'd propose or support upon taking office, Lee settled on a repeal of ObamaCare. He expects Republican majorities in both houses, which will pass such a repeal, but the majorities are not likely to be veto-proof, so President Obama will successfully veto the repeal. "That's when the fun starts," Lee said -- the fun of systematically defunding the program, that is.

Bridgewater wants the Utah Legislature to write his first bill, which he will then propose as a symbolic act.

Asked to name his political mentors, Bridgewater cited Utahan Richard Richards, Ronald Reagan, and Jack Kemp. He said, "Optimism works."

Lee listed Senator Jim DeMint, US Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas (Thomas got abundant applause from the crowd), Ronald Reagan, and his own father, Rex Lee.

Asked about immigration, Lee listed the importance of protecting the border with physical, technological, and human barriers; enforcing existing immigration laws, such as that making it illegal to hire illegal immigrants; and limiting "birthright citizenship" to children born to parents who are in the country legally. (He mentioned HR 1868 favorably.) Bridgewater emphasized the importance of eliminating benefits available to illegal immigrants, then listed several immigration-related endorsements.

One question was about the government's role in job creation. Bridgewater said it is to enforce the law, then get out of the way; he wants to lower taxes and compliance costs, and he said that the government should not be picking winners and losers. Lee said that the government cannot create jobs, because it cannot create wealth, only redistribute it -- which is unconstitutional.

Asked about term limits, Lee said he favors constitutional term limits of 12 years for both House and Senate, because the seniority system in Congress seriously distorts our politics and economy. He won't agree to unilateral, self-imposed term limits. Bridgewater would limit senators to three terms (18 years) and members of Congress to six terms (12 years). "I would self-limit," he said. He joked about aging Senator Robert Byrd, "I'm not sure he isn't dead already."

Asked to propose a previously unasked question for both to answer, Bridgewater asked about passions outside politics. He himself enjoys sports and outdoor activities. Lee cited his family, his religion, skiing, and running (slowly).

Lee's preferred question was about energy policy. "Our current energy policy is suicidal," he said. Most of our untapped resources are on land owned or controlled by the federal government, including shale oil reserves in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming combined which dwarf the known Arab oil reserves. Bridgewater extolled clean coal technology (a big Utah issue) and an expansion of nuclear power.

In his closing statement, Lee described his "proven record of limiting government," and noted that, because of his constitutional law background, he is "uniquely qualified to help get the federal courts out of the business of infanticide."

Bridgewater used his closing statement to characterize himself as a recipient of the American Dream and spoke of leaving a legacy which future generations can receive with gratitude and pride. He said, "We are raising a generation of irresponsible Americans," who think that government is the answer to all their problems.

Parting Thoughts

I give Bridgewater an A for the evening and Lee an A+. Both candidates stayed on message. Both were articulate and substantive and showed some personality. There was no significant faux pas. I give Lee the slightly higher grade because he was more energetic, more cheerful, and a bit more eloquent. I'm not sure this is related, but he also got more and louder applause.

As I've said before, I like both candidates, but I support Lee over Bridgewater (for reasons I won't belabor here).

A full hour with just two candidates is a luxury one does not always have, and it's also a fairly good test of the candidates. Here's the news flash of the evening, in my mind: Earlier in the campaign, Tim Bridgewater was clearly the seasoned candidate, and Mike Lee was the bright but politically inexperienced rookie, who sometimes tended to give a long, technical answer when a short, clear one was better, and sometimes had difficulty making clear connections in his words between principles and policy. Tonight there was no trace of that rookie. The hour was a good piece of work for both candidates, but for Mike Lee, in my mind, it was bigger than that, precisely because the rookie is now gone. As a Lee supporter, I find this encouraging.

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