War Report: Utah Federal Candidates' Plans for Military, Veterans 

They all claim to support veterans but none have a plan for peace.

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In a year when the economy and immigration dominate political debates, the military has become the ignored front-page news. Even in federal races, where the congressional representatives will have a direct impact on funding decisions and military actions, voters and candidates barely even mention it.

That is true whether the issue is the troop drawdown in Iraq, the ongoing war in Afghanistan—now in its 10th year—or veteran care. Sure, military issues are important to candidates, when asked. It’s just that nobody is asking and, thus, no candidates are talking.

To that end, City Weekly asked all of the candidates for federal office for their thoughts on military issues, especially the current wars and veteran care. For more detailed breakdowns of each race, visit CityWeekly.net.

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Incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop [R] vs. Morgan Bowen [D]: 1st District

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The heart of this district, both geographically and economically, is Hill Air Force Base. Currently, the district is represented by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who sits on the Armed Forces committee. Although Bishop did not respond to requests for an interview, his love for the military seems to know no bounds. He received almost 10 percent of his campaign donations from defense contractors who make their livelihood through HAFB, the Dugway Proving Grounds and Tooele Army Depot—all in the 1st District—and, annually, his earmarks go almost exclusively to those same contractors.

His Democratic opponent, 45-year-old Morgan Bowen—who ran against Bishop in 2008, as well—is concerned about the “outrageous profiteering” caused by the use of contractors, especially in the Middle East. “It’s crony capitalism. If you know somebody in government, you get rich,” particularly in the foreign war zones, Bowen says.

He also wants to see care for veterans made a “priority,” which requires adequate funding. But it doesn’t stop with veterans. Bowen would like to see a lot more services offered for the families of active-duty soldiers and returning veterans. “They come home, and we’re willing to pull the rug out from under them. It’s immoral ... we need to have the decency to help them.”

Incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson [D] vs. Morgan Philpot [R]: 2nd District

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In almost every election, Matheson is challenged by a Republican who wants to make the race a referendum on party. This year is no different, as Philpot is focusing heavily on Matheson the Democrat and relies heavily on rhetoric in his pitch to voters. For example, Philpot agrees that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars “dwarf all other military issues” but he lacks any direct proposal for how the wars should be handled. Instead, he says the missions should be clear, but cannot pinpoint what constitutes clarity.

As for veteran issues, he says that he hasn’t heard a lot of complaints about care, but that it should be a priority. “If there’s an argument being made that there isn’t enough being done, then I will certainly start working on the issue.”

As Matheson constantly reminds voters, he is a fiscal conservative. That approach extends to the defense budget, which he says needs to be “scrubbed” with an in-depth audit and then use the “guaranteed savings” to purchase basic equipment and adequately fund veteran care.

Another issue Matheson continually harps on is nuclear testing and its legacy of downwinder cancer. Thus, he has been a strong opponent of any new testing, underground or otherwise. Philpot is also opposed to renewed testing, but says that talking about it is a tactic used by Matheson to drum up fear among voters.

Incumbent Rep. Jason Chaffetz [R] vs. Karen Hyer [D]: 3rd District

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More than any other race, this district is defined by personality because of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. But his Democratic opponent, 68-year-old Karen Hyer, isn’t a fan of him. In fact, she points to his “stunts” and his political skills as reasons voters should be frustrated with him.

Hyer says that when it comes to the military, one of her most important issues is the treatment of war veterans. Instead of the current approach that has soldiers simply screened for possible post-traumatic stress disorder, she would like to see a requirement that every soldier who has been to a war zone go through basic counseling, with additional treatment if necessary. By doing so, “the stigma of treatment would be removed, and it wouldn’t be left to the soldier to ask for help.”

Hyer calls herself conservative and was a Republican most of her life, but decided to run as a Democrat—she is actually still registered as unaffiliated—because she tired of the continued abuses of powers and ethical conflicts for Republicans, especially on the state and federal level. Meanwhile, Chaffetz was preaching the tea-party platform before anyone even heard of Sarah Palin. He also made a name for himself because of that tea-party conservatism, which has, at times, put him at odds with his own party.

Among his most notable votes, in fact, was his opposition to continued funding for the war in Iraq. He was one of only 12 Republicans to vote against it, primarily because he was frustrated that there was not a defined goal in the war. Not that he’s a peacenik. Instead, he wants the military to “go in with everything” to win the war (any war, for that matter) or get the hell out.

On the homefront, Chaffetz says, veterans, their families and the larger society need to recognize the challenges. That includes medical issues like disabilities and mental problems, but it also means making sure that soldiers—especially National Guardsmen—don’t lose businesses or employment because of their service, which may require tougher federal laws to guarantee. He also supports a “hybrid” veteran health-care system that would allow vets to visit private clinics for most routine care, which he says would be very beneficial in Utah because of the number of vets living in rural Utah that find it a significant hardship to travel to Salt Lake City for care.

Mike Lee [R] vs. Sam Granato [D]: U.S. Senate

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Mike Lee has made a name for himself as a tea-party darling, which helped him win the Republican nomination over Tim Bridgewater after incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, was knocked out at the Republican convention. While he says that Iraq “seems to be stabilizing,” when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, “there is no easy answer ... we can’t pull out abruptly, and we shouldn’t stay in perpetuity.”

His Democratic opponent, Sam Granato, who served briefly in the National Guard in the 1960s, says that the most important goal in Afghanistan is to finish the job properly by clearing out the terrorist groups and stabilizing the government. When that is accomplished, “we need to bring troops home, but they need to come home with dignity.”

Probably the biggest difference between the two candidates is their position on nuclear testing. Lee has maintained his support for underground testing of nuclear weapons, while Granato opposes what he sees as a dangerous and unneccesary exercise.

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