Oct 13, 2022 - Politics

GOP Rep. Burgess Owens skips Utah's 4th Congressional District debate

January Walker stands next to an empty podium during a debate.

(L-R) Darlene McDonald and January Walker at Utah's 4th Congressional District debate. Pool Photo: Xiangyao Tang/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Utah's 4th Congressional District debate Wednesday continued without Republican Rep. Burgess Owens after he pulled out of the event just hours before it started.

Driving the news: In a video released Wednesday, the congressman said he refused to participate due to the Utah Debate Commission selecting Salt Lake Tribune executive editor Lauren Gustus as debate moderator.

  • The commission in a statement said it stood behind its moderator choice. Gustus declined to comment.

Context: Owens said he was also ditching the debate due to a "racist" editorial cartoon published by The Salt Lake Tribune in 2021.

  • The illustration compared remarks Owens made about immigrants invading neighborhoods during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border last year to rhetoric spewed by the Ku Klux Klan.
  • "I will not in good conscience have anything to do with the racist Salt Lake Tribune and will therefore not participate in this debate," he said.
  • Shortly after his decision, his colleagues Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Chris Stewart and John Curtis released a statement standing by him.

Flashback: Owens has frequently discussed experiencing racism and segregation during his childhood.

The other side: During the debate, McDonald and Walker called Owens cowardly for not arriving and critiqued comments he has made about immigrants.

  • "Rep. Owens' statements that he made in April of 2021 mimic the statements that were made by the KKK about people who look like me and people who look like him," said McDonald, who is also Black.
  • Owens not showing up, Walker said, has "absolutely nothing to do with the cartoon and everything to do with not being able to speak clearly and concisely."
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