Curtis takes town hall heat

Rep. commends reservation rollback

Rep. John Curtis stands in front of Star Hall, speaking with constituents before the town hall meeting on March 21. The flowers in his hand were given to him by Mayor Emily Niehaus, who said she was thankful to host Curtis in Moab.
Photo by Carter Pape

During a trip through southeastern Utah, U.S. Representative John Curtis (R-Utah) stopped in Moab on Wednesday, March 20 for a meeting with the Moab City Council and Grand County Council. He also hosted a town hall meeting with constituents.

Curtis opened the meeting by reintroducing himself and talking about some of the initiatives he’s pushed in his 15 months in office, then quickly getting into answering audience questions.

The first question came from a local teacher regarding President Donald Trump, questioning Curtis on what he has done to respond in particular to Trump’s denigrating behaviors. She said that if Grand County students were to exhibit some of the behaviors or make some of the comments that he makes, they would be suspended or otherwise punished.

Curtis reciprocated the questioner’s incredulity in answering. “I don’t know how to satisfy you in that request,” he said. He later added that he didn’t want to spend all of his time pushing back against the president when he had other policy priorities to work on.

Curtis went on to say that there were many areas where he had taken on the actions of the president, such as his policy of child separation at the border being a chief example. He also added that he did not vote for him in 2016.

The event was bookended by questions regarding Curtis’ actions to oppose the president, and when an audience member said at the end he wanted Curtis to “oppose our president” on matters with which they disagreed, Curtis said, “I do.”

Curtis took questions from the audience on other various topics, including proposals to have Amtrak focus on more regional service, which could bring passenger train service between Moab, Provo, Price and Salt Lake City. Curtis said he wanted to be a part of such a planning process because it would be a “game-changer” if such transit service were to be established.

Arches reservation system

Local businessman Michael Liss thanked Curtis during the town hall for his help in stalling a plan to establish a reservation system at Arches. Curtis responded by saying that there was “a lot of good intent” from people in the National Park Service on this issue, and he gave a shout out to Kate Cannon for working on such “hard issues.”

“I think this step backwards needs to be applauded,” Curtis said regarding NPS’ decision to look more into how the reservation plan would affect the park’s operations and the surrounding region and economy.

He added that “something has to be done” and that he wanted Moabites to find a unified voice in communicating residents’ desires on the issue. He said that it is hard to work with locals on the issue when they are speaking with “multiple voices.”

Paid family leave

Curtis also fielded a question about paid family leave. The questioner pointed out that Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, for which he is the U.S. Representative, is the youngest congressional district in the nation. The questioner said that a lack of nationally mandated paid family leave creates a “big hurdle” for young families in the district and asked Curtis about his thoughts on such a requirement.

Curtis said he would have to work to get his arms around the matter of paid family leave and added that some forms of it could end up wiping out a small business if it were required to pay a worker who took time off to care for a child.

When the questioner asked about his thoughts on mandating paid family leave for only the public sector, Curtis pivoted to ask how to pay for such a program. He added that he would be “anxious” to look at any proposals coming out of the Democratic House on the matter.

After leaving Moab, Curtis went on to meet with constituencies in San Juan County, including groups of Native Americans from reservations in and around the region.