As the November election nears, Utah is gaining national attention in one of its races: the 4th Congressional District. Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT) is seeking to keep his seat as the sole Democrat representing Utah in Congress.
McAdams won the seat in 2018 against former Rep. Mia Love by a narrow margin — eking out a victory by 694 votes.
Now, the one-term representative will face Burgess Owens, a former NFL player, who has become the favorite within the GOP for this race — gaining an endorsement from President Donald Trump after winning the Republican primary June 30.
The race for Utah’s 4th Congressional District has been deemed one of the country’s most competitive races — with McAdams holding a slight lead over Owens, according to a new poll by Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics released Monday.
The Forum spoke with McAdams in an exclusive interview, discussing what his goals and priorities would be if re-elected. You can listen to the fifth episode of the Behind The Ballot podcast series here— or tune in to The Forum on Apple Podcasts andSoundCloud.
Below is a written transcript of the full profile on McAdams with Editor-in-Chief Cami Mondeaux. Answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.
CAMI MONDEAUX: Interestingly, you’re the only incumbent who’s responded to my request. So our interview will probably be a little different than the others that I’ve done, obviously, because the other ones haven’t been in office and you have.
But to start off, you’re the only Democrat in Congress from Utah. So that already puts you in a unique position for this race, because Utah does typically vote red. And you won the seat by a very narrow margin against Mia Love in 2018. And so now this race is between you and Burgess Owens has the Republican candidate and it’s getting national attention at this point.
So I guess I’d start off by asking as someone who’s worked in the position for two years, what have been your favorite accomplishments in the position as well as the projects you’d want to continue if you’re re-elected?
BEN MCADAMS: Well, thank you. One of the things I’m most proud of my service is my focus on bipartisanship. I was recently given an award by the US Chamber of Commerce for bipartisanship. And my rankings, as far as my votes, I am the most independent member of Utah’s delegation, and one of the most independent members of the entire Congress.
And really, that’s a priority of mine that I will always put people in Utah ahead of either political party to do to do what’s right. One of the issues in which I’m doing that, that’s a priority of putting Utah first is to stop nuclear weapons testing.
So the Trump administration has been discussing resuming nuclear weapon testing, Utah was downwind from nuclear weapons testing that they tested in the Nevada desert, over 1000 explosive nuclear bombs. And much of the debris, the fallout from those nuclear weapons blew into Utah and left thousands, tens of thousands, almost 100,000 Utahns with cancer, and many, many people died.
And now they’re talking about resuming nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site. I am doing everything I can to stop that and introduce legislation and an amendment to the National Defense Bill to prohibit the use of any tax dollars to go for nuclear weapons testing to protect people in Utah.
That legislation has received bipartisan support. It passed the House and we are hoping to get the Senate to agree to it as well.
But that’s one of the things that’s a priority to me. The other things I’m working on are improving Utah’s air quality and addressing climate change. There are oftentimes the same thing which we want clean air here in Utah, but we also want to be good stewards of the earth.
And to stop climate change is having an impact not only here in Utah and on our snowpack and our winters, but having an impact around the globe. And so that is a priority of mine.
I’ve introduced legislation to address our air quality locally and then supporting legislation to combat climate change nationally and globally.
Then the last one I would talk about is my work to address the suicide epidemic.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for youth ages 18-24 in Utah, and it is a tragedy that is preventable. And so my work is to provide resources to help people who are in crisis who are having a mental or behavioral health crisis, to promote positive mental health and behavioral health and access to mental health workers and access to Suicide Prevention hotline.
And then also we got to recognize that death by suicide — there are certain risk factors that may put people more in a riskier position and so things like — the science isn’t really good on it.
So I’m on the Science Committee and I’ve introduced legislation to study and help us to get answers to what puts people at risk of death by suicide. And some things that seem to be indicators affect us here in Utah, which may explain why we are at higher rates, but altitude, air quality, air pollution, seems to at least be a correlation if not a causation of risk of death by suicide.
So working to understand what other factors — environmental factors and individual factors — may put an individual at risk would help us to reduce deaths by suicide.
If we know that certain air quality events are going to cause people to be more at risk that we can respond with messaging and outreach and helping people to avoid that.
So those are some of my priorities and just coming back full circle: In order to get anything done in this country, we have to elect leaders who recognize that someone from a different political party isn’t bad.
That we can work together and people who are willing to go alone — independent of their own party and stand up for what’s right, and what’s good for our state. And my track record shows that that’s exactly who I am or what I’m doing.
CM: I did want to mention that you are a candidate who has painted himself as someone who is in the middle can work across the aisle — and that’s something that you don’t typically see a lot in campaigning.
You know, you see people like, “Oh, well, the other side is just terrible, and that’s why we got to get him out.” So why do you think that makes you a better candidate for emphasizing that you can work across the aisle?
BA: If we’re going to get anything done, you got to have Republicans and Democrats, Senators and Representatives, mayors and governors, all working together to address our challenges.
Look no further than climate change. There is no single government that is going to solve climate change. We have to work together.
And it is Republicans and Democrats, but it’s also states and cities. It’s also other countries that we all have to work together.
I think it’s important that we elect people who are willing to stand for their principles, to do what’s right, and to work for our constituents, and not get caught up in the political games that seem to so often to sideline important priorities like addressing climate change, or suicide, or improving the quality and access of affordable education.
All of those things have fallen victim in the past to partisanship and I think there’s no excuse for that, and I will not tolerate, that’s not who I am. And that’s not how I think I can best represent my constituents.
CM: And that’s the perfect segue because one of the issues I want to talk about is the environment and climate change. It’s a big topic among college students, especially, they see themselves as you know, the generation that will deal with the most drastic effects.
So I was curious, how have you been dealing with constituent concerns surrounding the environment and climate change, and what your continued goals and priorities would be?
BA: Climate change is important. We all recognize that. But sometimes when you’re thinking about a problem as big as climate change, and you think, “Who am I, how can I affect it, and does my vote really matter in changing the dialogue on climate change?”
The first thing that I think is important to recognize is while it is a global problem, it’s a problem that’s being faced by all of humanity. It is also a local problem, and we can do things about it.
You heard me do this actually earlier, but to recognize the global problem of talking about it in local terms, because then people realize how immediate is we can change we can improve the air quality here in Utah.
Places around the country have improved their air, we can do that. If Utah’s improving our air, we will probably be doing our part to — at least a little bit of our part — to address climate change.
So the things that work locally will contribute to a global solution. Moving to a clean energy economy. Supporting renewables, like solar wind power, are important. Electric-powered vehicles.
So much of our pollution along the Wasatch Front is caused by vehicles. Over 50% of the pollution in our air is tailpipe emissions out of a car. If we can make cars more fuel efficient, so they get more miles per gallon, it means they’re putting less pollution into the air. When they do that, it improves our air quality.
It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions that are at the root of the causes of human influence, climate change. So working on local solutions that will contribute to globally reducing climate change.
Under the Obama Administration, the United States entered into what was called the Paris Climate Accord. Now, the Paris Climate Accords, a lot of people don’t understand what that means and what Paris had to do with it.
The reason it’s called the Paris Climate Accord is because these agreements were signed in Paris — but the United States came up with some goals and standards that we were going to shoot for, for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
And it was, you know, what are we going to do as a country? What are we going to do with states and cities to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions?
We put that forward, and we made that commitment in Paris. Since then, the United States has walked away from that commitment under the Trump Administration.
I think, first of all, climate change is such an important issue for us to address. But I also think as Americans, we make promises and we keep our promises.
Our word is our bond. We act honorably. And so I, for me, I think it was disappointing to see us decide to not live up to that commitment.
I was proud to vote for legislation in the House of Representatives that said, the United States would, in fact, honor our commitments that we made in Paris as part of the Paris Climate Accord.
That legislation did not get considered in the Senate. And the President had said he would veto it. But it is a step.
None of these things individually are going to solve climate change. But I think taking steps and taking responsibility as a state and as a country to do our part will help us to get there.
It’s important and so I was proud to pass that these were achievable goals, also, the United States committed to and I think we need to get back to keeping the commitments we’ve made in the past to doing our part to address climate change.
CM: And then just another issue I was wanting to ask about during our time is just on healthcare. That’s been the big campaign platform issue for presidential candidates, for governor candidates.
Especially with Bernie Sanders arguing for Medicare for all, and Republicans kind of using that as a weapon against voting Democrats. So I was curious what you would be focusing on in terms of health care — So far in time of office, and then also if you are re-elected.
BA: I’ll just be clear and be honest, I actually do not support Medicare for all and a lot of people do. But let me tell you what I do support. I do think that healthcare is so fun, fundamental to stability and security and quality of life.
But I do believe that everybody should have access to quality, affordable health care. The system we’ve got right now in this country, I think, is a good one for people who have healthcare.
The cracks are big, and there are a lot of people falling through the cracks. So my focus would be, first of all, to making sure that every American has access to affordable quality health care is a goal that I support and will work towards.
So we have a system right now that really kind of has three prongs. It’s a little bit of an oversimplification, but three prongs to ensuring people have access to health care.
The first is through your job. And so if you have an employer, you can get healthcare through your job.
The second is Medicare and Medicaid. I was a longtime supporter of Medicaid expansion in Utah. Honestly, I think a lot of people confuse Medicaid expansion with Medicare. I do support Medicaid expansion and Utah ultimately ended up going that route; we expanded Medicaid to cover everybody who is at 133% of the federal poverty level or below.
So low-income individuals, many of whom are students will qualify for Medicaid under Utah’s Medicaid expansion that was adopted in 2018 by ballot initiative. The voters approved that, and it’s just coming into effect right now.
So it’s employer-based Medicare and Medicaid.
And then the third prong is on the exchanges, the health care exchanges. And that was an innovation of the Affordable Care Act.
Exchanges have been, there’s some mixed reviews, I would say. It’s a good concept that you should be able to have healthcare, independent of your job. What we’ve seen with the exchanges, in many cases, they’re expensive, and the quality is low.
I think that’s an area where we need to put additional focus to make sure that the quality of the plans offered on the exchange, at least meets a basic level of care.
Some people are surprised to know the plan that they bought, and they’ve been paying a monthly amount — hundreds of dollars a month — and then they get sick and they realize that common things are not covered under their plan.
So we got to make sure that a foundational level of healthcare is available through plans acquired on the exchange and then ensuring that those plans are competitive and affordable to people who need them.
Again, my focus would be a shared focus on making sure that everybody has access to quality, affordable health care. Looking at the system we have, rather than throwing that out, and bringing in a new system that could get complicated.
There are going to be a lot of bumps along the way and looking into the system we have working to close the gaps in that system and making sure nobody’s falling through those gaps.
WHY COLLEGE STUDENTS SHOULD VOTE
CM: Perfect. And then just as a final question for a closing statement from you. People that I’ve talked to either interviewing running for office or just talking to college students, they all kind of say the same thing: That this is a really important election, probably the most important election of our lifetime, many say.
So keeping that in mind, if you agree with this, so why do you think it’s important for college students to get involved in this election or why it’s important to vote at all.
BA: This is the most important election of our lifetime. And there are a lot of issues that are on the ballot right now. And I, you know, everybody has an opinion it seems like about the presidential race.
Increasingly, people have opinions about my race and who they’re going to vote for in this race. But in addition, let me tell you what, what else is on the ballot.
What’s on the ballot is will we go back to testing nuclear weapons in Utah’s backyard? And can we trust the government that they will take every step to make those tests safe?
I don’t think so. But that’s an issue that really is going to be on the ballot. What will happen with our healthcare system?
Right now, the Trump Administration is working to take away protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. The notion that you can stay on your parents’ health insurance until the age of 25, that is under threat right now.
There’s a case before the Supreme Court that this administration is working to throw out those protections.
So what will happen? You know? And if it is thrown out, what will Congress do to respond and to enact and provide those protections for people.
Your healthcare is on the ballot at this time. What’s going to happen with climate change? I think the clock is ticking, and we are not taking steps to address this.
Every year that goes by, that we have not taken steps to address it, the solution gets harder and harder to implement. The sooner we act, the easier it’s going to be to address it.
All of those things are critical and time is of the essence. It’s important to elect people who are going to put you first, to put the people in Utah first and work to deliver solutions.
I’m not a believer that solutions are Democrat or Republican. I think there are good ideas in both parties. And there are bad ideas in both parties. We should have those debates, and we should decide what is going to move us forward.
And not worry about where the idea originated. [Not] did it originate with a Democrat, originate with a Republican? But what’s going to be good for our country, what’s going to be good for the people in this country?
That’s the decision that’s in front of you today. The presidential race is going to be a close race,. My race, this race for Congress is going to be a very close race.
You are choosing your future in this election. And it’s important to vote and to choose the future that you want for yourselves and the future you want for our country.
CM: Well, thank you again so much for your time. I really appreciate it. I know you have a busy schedule, so I really appreciate it. But best of luck with your campaign.
BA: Thank you, Cami. Thanks for the time.