Rep. John Curtis, Chris Herrod react to Texas school shooting primary debate

Rep. John Curtis and challenger Chris Herrod face off in a GOP debate Friday ahead of the 3rd Congressional District primary election.

Rep. John Curtis and challenger Chris Herrod face off in a GOP debate Friday ahead of the 3rd Congressional District primary election.

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Two Republican candidates in the 3rd District Congressional race responded during their Utah GOP primary debate Friday to the recent shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 students and two teachers.

Republican challenger Chris Herrod said during his closing remarks at the debate with incumbent Rep. John Curtis on Friday night that despite the Texas killings, children need to know that there’s no safer place in America than being at school. During another question, Curtis wondered why the outrage over the school shooting has not been matched by outrage over lives lost to abortion.

In the Republican Party debate, held on the BYU campus, Herrod and Curtis touched on issues such as education reform, spending, big tech, overturning Roe vs. Wade, borders and — in the aftermath of the Texas school shootings — gun control.

Both responded to a final question from debate moderator Carson Jorgensen, Utah GOP chairman, about how to keep children safe from school shootings “while maintaining our Second Amendment.”

“Right now, it’s most important as we let people know we love them,” Herrod said of the school killings. “Our kids have been traumatized over the last two years, and we talk about death in so many ways, but I think it’s important that we let kids know that we love them. But they need to know that there’s no safer place, still, in America, than being at school.”

Herrod acknowledged that doesn’t bring comfort to those who lost loved ones in the violence.

“Unfortunately, you’ve seen the gun (control) talk already, that one side primarily seems to be using it, as tragic as it is,” he said. “I look at what’s happened in Ukraine, and there are reasons for the Second Amendment. My position on the Second Amendment has not changed, but I make sure that I give love to those kids. We probably should have given more of the COVID money to those kids for protection and single (points of entry in schools).”

As Curtis spoke about his support for the Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe vs Wade, as indicated by a leaked draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, he made an analogy between the lives lost to abortion and the children’s lives lost in the Texas shooting this week.

“I strongly support overturning Roe vs. Wade,” he said. “It’s probably not a fair comparison, but during the last few days, I’ve thought of the irony of these children that were killed at the school and the attention, rightly so, they’re getting. I want to be careful not to be disrespectful to them. Why aren’t these other children (lost to abortion) getting that same kind of attention, whose lives were also taken?”

Curtis, the former mayor of Provo who defeated Herrod in a 2017 Republican primary special election to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, and again in the 2018 primary, responded to the final question on gun control by saying that “it appears we made so many mistakes in this shooting,” from security lapses to the tactical response to overlooking a young man “on the edge.”

“I think it’s very, very important that we look at these issues with their many, many layers,” Curtis said, “and not fool ourselves that there is some quick answer that we could do. It’s not a quick mental health fix, it’s not a quick gun fix; it’s an all-hands-on-deck issue. We all have to be involved in this, and I think we have to admit that we’ve had a breakdown in families, we’ve had a breakdown in churches, we’ve had a breakdown in communities that has allowed these types of things to take place.”

Curtis said Republicans have been willing to look for answers. “We have done a number of things, like strengthen background checks, while I’ve been in office. Unless we look at all these layers, we will never stop (these shootings from happening).”

Herrod said he’d make it easy for primary voters to decide, drawing a line in the sand between himself and two Utah Republicans, Sen. Mitt Romney and Gov. Spencer Cox, while casting himself as the candidate aligned with former President Donald Trump.

“There are two different wings in the Republican party,” he said. “If you’re more aligned with Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox, then I’m probably not your guy.”

“I do believe that we are at a critical juncture in America,” Herrod said. “We have very little time to fix things. If we do not fix them quickly, our country will disintegrate. I am the only candidate in this race who has been willing to speak against critical race theory and be vocal against it. I’ve criticized Black Lives Matter for its Marxist origins. I’ve been willing to say that the real war on women is allowing men to participate in (girls) sports.

“If we do not stand up right now, we are not going to have a country. … We must teach our children that America is good. There is no other nation in the world that has brought more different races, cultures and religions together in relative peace like the United States. … If we do not have an America First agenda, we will not survive.”

The debate, sponsored in part by the College Republicans and the Young Republicans, was scheduled recently after the state Republican party and the independent Utah Debate Commission were unable to reach an agreement to co-host the debates. Instead, the Utah GOP scheduled its own debates in two congressional races and the U.S. Senate race.

The Utah Debate Commission will hold its debates for the four congressional races as well as the Senate race next week. During each debate, only one incumbent Republican will take part, meaning challengers will take the stage alone or with another challenger in the case of the Senate race.

Utah primaries will be held June 28.

Contributing: Dennis Romboy

Arianne Brown

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