NORTH SALT LAKE — In virtual agreement over issues, seven Republican candidates for Utah's 2nd Congressional District sought to set themselves apart Monday from each other by emphasizing their different backgrounds.
And with no incumbent in the race, the candidates were running against Washington — deficit spending, federal control of Utah lands, entitlement programs, cutting federal regulation.
The 2nd Congressional District was redrawn this year to take in southern Davis County, Salt Lake City, and much of the western, central and southern Utah, extending to St. George. Eleven candidates have filed as Republican candidates for the seat.
Former Utah House Speaker David Clark, from St. George, repeatedly told the crowd packed into the North Salt Lake City Council chambers that he had more to offer than talk.
"A lot of rhetoric you will hear tonight at this podium, but I come with practical solutions," Clark said.
Clark said he's proposing the "First Notch of the Belt Act," which would require every federal agency to immediately cut its budget by 10 percent. A similar effort he made in the Utah Legislature saved taxpayers $400 million a year, Clark said.
Jeramy McElhaney, a Moab general contractor and the Grand County Republican chair, emphasized his experience dealing with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as he vowed to return federal lands to Utah.
"We need control of our public lands if we're going to flourish as a state," McElhaney said. Dealing with the BLM is like playing poker with the federal agency hold the cards and dealing them from the bottom of the deck, he added, promising to reverse the roles.
McElhaney got no disagreement from Chuck Williams of Heber City, a former Air Force pilot and assistant undersecretary of defense for military installations: "We need to dig, drill, deregulate and develop our public lands and energy resources."
Flatter, simpler taxes; plans to cut the deficit; opposition to the health care reform law — all played well with both the candidates and the crowd. Author Chris Stewart of Farmington, also a former Air Force pilot, lined up with other candidates to support the Ryan budget plan, which has been proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.
"I will walk with Paul Ryan on his plan," Stewart told the audience. "It will save our nation if we have the courage to implement it."
Responding to questions posed by Republican state delegates and Davis County Young Republicans, the candidates had similar proposals to control federal spending on Social Security.
Jason Buck, who cuts an imposing figure as a former NFL football player, said that current recipients must be guaranteed their benefits, but that there should be a "phase-out" for younger earners.
Cherilyn Eagar, who said she has experience ranging from the school board and state Legislature to Congress and the United Nations, said she supports the Save Social Security Act. That proposal would let workers 50 years old and younger opt into a privatized retirement system and get up to three times the return on their investment, she said.
Howard Wallack, a St. George businessman, said that his 25-years running a family trucking business gave him the most experience as a job creator.
Changes to Social Security and other programs like Medicare and Medicaid should not involve sacrifice to "people who work and pay taxes," Wallack said. He also supports Social Security privatization for those aged 49 and below, he said.