Story & Photos by D. Whitney Smith
LOGAN—Utah residents have the second-worst voting record in the United States—Texas has the worst—according to Democratic congressional candidate Donna McAleer, who is vying for Utah’s 1st District seat against five-term Republican incumbent Rob Bishop.
“It’s so important we vote in this country, because when we make a decision not to vote, that’s a vote for the status quo,” McAleer said Monday afternoon to a group of community members gathered in the TSC Auditorium. USU’s College Democrats invited McAleer to speak as part of the chapter’s ongoing schedule of events to educate and motivate students and other community members to get out and vote.
“We have, depending on whose poll you read, between a 9 and 15 percent approval rating in Congress,” McAleer said. “Yet, 85 percent of incumbents get re-elected. Why is that? A lot of it is because people don’t vote.”
McAleer’s campaign slogan is,
which she says describes her aim to transcend the partisan political posturing that has prevented Congress from getting things done.
“I’m sick and tired of the gridlock and the obstructionism and the partisanship in Congress and among our elected officials,” McAleer said. “We need legislators who are going to put patriotism and people above partisanship and politics.”
McAleer is a graduate of West Point and served as an officer in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Cold War. She said being a veteran has made her a mission-oriented individual, and this is why she’s the person voters need representing them in Congress. She also understands military leadership, she says.
“We cannot continue to use our military as a substitute for our State Department,” McAleer said, “and I think we need people with skin in the game to understand that. We also need to understand, when we go into war, we need to have a full strategy coming out of that.”
This strategy includes both a solid exit plan for pulling troops and equipment out of a war zone, as well as a way to take care of veterans and soldiers to be sure they receive all necessary assistance coming out of battle, she said.
“My opponent, interestingly enough, who says he supports the military, has voted against pay raises for soldiers, voted against housing, voted against healthcare for the military,” she said. “Yet, somehow, in 10 years, he’s voted to increase his own pay three times. I’m not sure how supportive he really is of veterans and the military.”
With an MBA from the University of Virginia, McAleer said she used her business skills to gain experience running a not-for-profit organization, the People’s Health Clinic, which provided medical care to individuals without health insurance.
After McAleer told the town hall audience about herself, she initiated a Q-and-A session. One audience member asked her about the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.
“What that act has really not addressed is the cost side of [health coverage],” she said. “I do think it’s a move in the right direction, but like any major piece of legislation, it needs to be reviewed and amended as needed. Right now, it’s been used as this massive lightning rod.”
Another individual asked McAleer about her outlook on Utah’s federal lands. As a ski instructor and avid outdoors person, McAleer said she’s also passionate about protecting Utah’s wilderness lands.
“Okay, 62 percent of our lands here in Utah are public lands,” she said. “The fact that we have a legislator who is the chair of the subcommittee on public lands who is willing to push and sell lands in his own state to privatize them is of significant concern to me. And it should be of significant concern to everybody in this country.”
Bishop is the chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Utah lawmakers have recently decided to sue the federal government over ownership of public lands, she said.
“If that’s not poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars, I’m not sure what is,” McAleer said. “Look at what public lands bring to our state in terms of tourism, in terms of the outdoor product industry, in terms of recreation. We have a great quality of life here because of these wonderful lands. This is one of our greatest natural resources.”
Al Snyder, a Democratic candidate for the Utah Legislature in District 5 who was in attendance at the town hall, also gave his thoughts on public lands after McAleer invited him to do so. He discussed the concept that some local legislators and candidates have proposed concerning the use of public lands to generate revenue for use in public education funding.
“For us to think that we can use public lands to help kids—well, first of all to [begin generating revenue], you’re talking 20 years, and our schools need help today,” Snyder said. “So using that as a reason to support education is totally irrational.”
Snyder also said a single major wildfire could cost between $52 million to $56 million to contain, which would bankrupt the state if it were responsible for covering those expenses.
Snyder’s wife, Kathy Snyder, vice chair of the Cache Democrats, also attended the McAleer town hall. She said McAleer would be the “most dynamic” and the “most productive” Congress person the 1st District could have in office.
“I think she would put her district first—the people of her district first—over the politics of her job,” Kathy Snyder said. She also said local voters are hoping to organize a debate in Cache Valley between McAleer and Bishop.
McAleer said Bishop has agreed to one of the several debates she has proposed.
USU College Democrats executive board member Mike McPhie said he’s always been skeptical of politicians who have been in office for “decades.”
“I think the Constitution was designed—[in the] House of Representatives there’s an election every two years, president every four and Senate six—I think they did that for a reason, so people that are connected to the people have that opportunity,” McPhie said. “I don’t think they planned for these career politicians. So, I always get skeptical.”
USU political science student Anna Harris said likes the fact that McAleer expressed the need for continued participation in the democratic process throughout one’s time in office.
“I also felt something that was really important that she stressed was the significance of how much in-fighting there is in Congress these days,” Harris said. “Nobody gets along well, everybody’s screaming at each other, nobody listens.”