Burgess Owens confirms he will not attend tonight’s debate

Oct 12, 2022, 12:25 PM | Updated: 2:33 pm

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

Owens released a video Wednesday afternoon, addressing his decision not to debate.

Why Owens won’t 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 video statement.


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

The debate commission’s statement

The Utah Debate comission is releasing a statement after Owens confirmed he will not participate.

The Utah Debate Commission is disappointed to hear that Rep. Burgess Owens will not participate in tonight’s debate.

The Utah Debate Commission stands behind the choice of moderator for tonight’s debate between candidates running for the 4th Congressional District.  We believe the moderator’s questions will be fair and professional, representing the Utah Debate Commission in an independent, non-partisan matter.   

We welcome Rep. Owens to join us on stage this evening for a meaningful dialogue which will inform voters in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

The commission says they stand behind tonight’s moderator and believe she will be fair and professional.

Support from Lee, Stewart, Curtis

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, along with Congressmen Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and John Curtis, R-Utah, also released a statement supporting Owens’ decision. 


The statement from the delegates says the decision to allow The Salt Lake Tribune Executive Editor to moderate tonight’s debate is not the Utah way.

They say they “don’t believe it to be in the spirit of a good debate for our friend and colleague to be subjected to questions from the person who approved the image.”

When the cartoon was published a year and a half ago, all of Utah’s Delegation issued a joint statement call the cartoon “beyond the pale.”

Sen. Mitt Romney and Congressman Blake Moore signed onto that statement, however, their names were not on today’s statement.

Before backing out

Before releasing his video, and during a tour of a water purification facility on Wednesday, Owens told KSL NewsRadio’s Lindsay Aerts “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 tonight at 6 p.m. at the University of Utah.

Related: Utah debates: How Utah’s Fourth Congressional District opponents compare on the issues

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Burgess Owens confirms he will not attend tonight’s debate