Burgess Owens confirms he will not attend tonight’s debate

Oct 12, 2022, 1:35 PM | Updated: 1:53 pm
Former NFL player Burgess Owens testifies during a hearing on slavery reparations held by the House...
Former NFL player Burgess Owens testifies during a hearing on slavery reparations held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on June 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee debated the H.R. 40 bill, which proposes a commission be formed to study and develop reparation proposals for African-Americans. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — As tonight’s debate for Utah’s Fourth Congressional District seat draws near, Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, has confirmed he will not attend.

Owens released a video Wednesday addressing the debate.

In the video, Owens explained his decision to not participate is because of The Salt Lake Tribune Executive Editor Lauren Gustus’ role as moderator.

Owens referenced an incident last year, where the Salt Lake Tribune published a cartoon comparing him to the Ku Klux Klan.

Owens went on the explain that because of the Utah Debate Commission’s refusal to remove Gustus as moderator for the debate, he will not participate.

“I will not, in good conscience, have anything to do with the racist Salt Lake Tribune and will therefore not participate in this debate,” Owens said in a statement.

Owens went on to address one of his opponents, Darlene McDonald. He invited McDonald to join him in town hall meetings to discuss their political views with constituents on Oct. 22 and Oct. 29.

Before releasing his video, and during a tour of a water purification facility on Wednesday, Owens told KSL NewsRadio’s Lindsay Aerts “guess we’ll find out” when asked if he’d participate in the debate.

Owens, nor his campaign, answered multiple requests made via phone, text and email from KSL NewsRadio for comment or interview on his appearance before today’s comment to Aerts.

On Tuesday, the Utah Debate Commission sent out a press release that said Owens “refuses to commit to showing up at the debate.”

The commission continued its statement, calling Owens’ behavior cowardly and chastising him for a lack of accountability to his constituents. Owens did not attend the primary election debate against Jake Hunsaker earlier this year either.

The debate will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the University of Utah whether or not Owens attends.

Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Chris Stewart and John Curtis released a statement supporting Owens’ decision:

“Last year, the paper published a cartoon comparing the only black representative in Utah’s federal delegation to a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite our entire delegation’s calls to remove the cartoon, issue an apology, and hold themselves to a higher standard, those at the Tribune did nothing. We do not believe it to be in the spirit of good debate for our friend and colleague to be subjected to questions from the person who approved the image and refused to take it down—even after being advised of its offensive nature.

“Racially charged hate speech should be unequivocally denounced in all its forms, not elevated and encouraged. This decision underscores a profoundly flawed process, and we charge all who were knowingly complicit to do better. This is not the Utah way.”

In his video response, Owens pointed to a political cartoon drawn in April 2021 by Pat Bagley, the Tribune’s editorial cartoonist, which featured a Ku Klux Klansman with a torch, pointing and saying the words, “They are coming to your neighborhoods,” alongside a depiction of Rep. Owens, pointing and saying the same words at the U.S. border, as part of his reason for not participating in the debate.

The cartoon drew a unified condemnation from Utah’s congressional representation. Both Bagley and the Tribune continue to stood by the cartoon, though the Tribune did not issue any formal response.

Instead, the paper published an editorial addressing Owens’ stance on immigration and border issues.

Bagley responded and said if any of Utah’s other representatives had said similar things about immigration he would have drawn the same cartoon.

“If Sen. Mike Lee, Mitt Romney or any other Utah pol had said this about immigrants they would have earned the same cartoon. Treating Owens any different on account of his race would be, uh, what’s the word…

“If you don’t want to be dunked on for using an age-old white supremacist talking points then don’t use white supremacist talking points,” he continued.

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Burgess Owens confirms he will not attend tonight’s debate