Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with the leading candidates for the 3rd Congressional District.
Jim Bennett describes himself as being a loyal Republican for most of his life.
That wouldn’t surprise most people who follow Utah politics, as his father, Bob Bennett, served three terms as a Republican U.S. senator.
But what did surprise many people was the fact that after Bob Bennett failed to secure the party’s nomination to run for Senate again in 2010, Jim Bennett went to work for the Democratic candidate in that race.
When the news broke, he ended up getting more attention than that Democratic candidate did, Bennett said.
“That experience demonstrated to me how tribal politics has become,” Bennett said. “When you work on campaigns, you spend a lot of time thinking that the other side is not just mistaken, that they are evil, they are the bad guys. You have to fight them, you have to defeat them.”
His professional involvement in politics ended there until recently, when he became involved in the movement to start a new, centrist political party, called United Utah. Bennett had changed his affiliation to unaffiliated after Donald Trump secured the Republican Party nomination.
“I didn’t leave the Republican Party, so much as the Republican Party left me,” Bennett said, referencing a similar Ronald Reagan quote about Democrats.
He served as the United Utah Party’s executive director, before Rep. Jason Chaffetz stepped down necessitating a special election process to replace him in Congress.
Though United Utah hadn’t originally planned on introducing candidates in 2017, once Chaffetz stepped down, Bennett said he knew he would enjoy the opportunity to represent the new party as a candidate.
“This is the first time in a very long time that I feel like I have a political home, that I have a party that represents a moderate, centrist position that is more in line with my values than where the Republican Party is today,” Bennett said.
Bennett feels, if elected, being a member of a third party would give him a unique platform to work with both of the major parties.
He mentioned an ad from the Republican primary which attacked a candidate for saying they would collaborate with Democrats.
“There is no political risk for a Democrat or Republican to collaborate with me,” Bennett said. “They are not going to get written up by somebody for cavorting with the enemy. I am going to be someone who is in a unique position to create consensus in a way that a partisan Republican or Democrat will never be able to do.”
One of the issues that represents the party’s centrist views is health care, Bennett said.
“Republicans are fixated on lowering costs, and that’s a good thing,” Bennett said. “Democrats are fixated on expanding coverage, and that’s a good thing. But both of those goals need to be reconciled with each other.”
Fixing just one of those issues without fixing the other is not enough to fix the issue as a whole, Bennett said.
In order to accomplish both those objectives, his plan to address health care involves combining catastrophic coverage with expanded medical savings accounts.
Catastrophic coverage would take care of large-scale health care needs, he said, using his daughter’s serious ski accident that left her partially paralyzed as an example.
“It’s much the same principle as automobile coverage,” Bennett said. “When you get car insurance, it pays when your car has been totaled, but it doesn’t pay to fill up your tank, it doesn’t pay to change your oil. Those are expenses you take care of yourself.”
And those everyday expenses, he said, could be addressed with Medical Savings Accounts, tax-free savings accounts which people can use to help pay for many health needs.
“You can use that to negotiate the health care services that the free market can help you drive down costs with,” Bennett said.
Bennett acknowledges that there are many other issues related to health care, but says he believes that blanket approach is common ground where Republicans and Democrats can come together to fix the system.
Bennett said his moderate leanings are also noticeable in his views on immigration, and he endorses the principles outlined in the Utah Compact of 2010.
The compact, endorsed by business and political leaders as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, encourages immigration policies that do not unnecessarily separate families.
“The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors,” the compact says. “Utah should always be a place that welcomes people of goodwill.”
Specifically, Bennett said he believes Trump’s idea of a border wall between the United States and Mexico is a “terrible idea for a number of reasons.”
One of those reasons, Bennett said, is that most people in the country illegally are people who stay after a temporary visa expires.
“They aren’t scurrying across the San Diego border in the dead of night,” Bennett said. “Places where border crossings are a problem already have physical barriers.”
Bennett said the issue of refugees coming to the country is a fundamental moral issue, and he has been disappointed to see so many Republicans be unwelcoming to refugees.
“Utah was a state founded by refugees who were driven from their homes because of what they believed,” Bennett said. “And we can’t turn our backs on the people all across the world who are suffering that same thing.”
Bennett will face Republican challenger, John Curtis, and Democratic challenger Kathie Allen in the Nov. 7 election.