Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — A millennial, who describes himself as a "principled, compassionate" Republican launched a campaign Tuesday to challenge conservative Rep. Burgess Owens in Utah's 4th Congressional District.
Jake Hunsaker, 32, said the first-term Owens doesn't represent what Utah voters care about or the rhetoric that they want their congressman to be using. Owens also doesn't advocate for policies that would most help the state and the nation progress, he said.
"I believe there's room right now for representation that doesn't just recycle sound bites and rhetoric in the way I have seen the current representative do, and also contribute to the extremism in the political spectrum and the idea that the other side is so different from us and their motives are so evil that we can never work with them," Hunsaker said.
Hunsaker, who does operations management at Google, is the first Republican to announce his intention to take on Owens, who narrowly beat incumbent Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams last fall. Other GOP candidates might follow. McAdams has not ruled out trying to win his seat back.
The Owens campaign did not immediately respond for comment about Hunsaker, who plans to use both the convention and signature gathering tracks under Utah's dual nomination system, joining the race.
Any challenges Owens could face will likely mirror the larger tensions occurring within the Republican Party, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
"To what extent is it going to be the party of Donald Trump in 2022 and 2024 versus moving forward to new approaches and candidates? This is a debate that continues to play out in Republican circles, including in the state's congressional delegation, though the Trump wing of the party is clearly ascendant."
Trump aside, Owens has positioned himself as more to the right on a number of different issues in a swing congressional district where more moderate positions have typically won the day, Karpowitz said.
"Given the past trends in the district, there is likely room for a candidate who wants to take a more centrist approach," he said.
A hard-line conservative, Owens routinely labels Democrats as Marxists and socialists and frequently bashes liberal policies that he says bring "misery" to American cities. A staunch Trump supporter, he was one of two Utah congressmen who objected to the certification of Pennsylvania's electoral college votes in January.
Hunsaker said he didn't vote for Trump or Biden in the 2020 election, but declined to name who he wrote in on the ballot. He said he along with millions of Americans felt disenfranchised by GOP leadership. The party, he said, has departed from the heart and soul of conservatism.
"The term homeless Republican resonates with a lot of people lately and I think that we need to have a home for every Republican," he said. The GOP, he said, has narrowed the definition of what it means to be a Republican and isn't reconciling with voters who feel they are without a party.
Hunsaker, who lives in Riverton, said he believes conservatism, at its core, is a compassionate philosophy, one that empowers individuals to seek their own course.
"In some ways we are true to that or we talk as if we're true to that when it matters, but we don't often act that way on what I call our pet issues," he said.
Hunsaker said he would probably vote with Owens 90% of the time, but it's the other 10% that needs to change, where people need to expect real, proactive solutions.
Technology and climate change are among Hunsaker's top issues.
Poor political leadership not only loses elections, it exacerbates real problems and divides our nation.
Government isn't doing enough to keep up with rapidly exploding technology legislatively, he said. There's an ethical regulatory ambiguity that accompanies tech, whether it's intellectual property, data privacy or artificial intelligence, he said.
Hunsaker's stance on climate change veers from traditional Republican policy.
"I believe we need to solve our climate change crisis," he said. "Whether we know what's causing that or not, we have a responsibility to acknowledge it and do our best to combat it, so we can leave a planet that's a little bit cleaner and a little bit more viable for future generations."
Hunsaker said he will build his campaign around a coalition of Utahns focused on recentering the GOP on conservative principles instead of personality, charting a clear course for the future, and increasing the long-term viability of the party among a broader base of voters.
"Politicians on both sides pander for cheap political points, rotating through oversimplified soundbites. They spend their time and our money manufacturing divisiveness rather than building our communities and solving problems. Poor political leadership not only loses elections, it exacerbates real problems and divides our nation," he said.
Hunsaker grew up in Ogden, the youngest (along with his twin brother) of 11 children. He said he has 70 nieces and nephews and three more on the way. He earned a degree at the BYU Marriott School of Management. He has worked in the private sector doing business analytics and operations management for Fortune 100 companies. He sang with the musical group Vocal Point at BYU and was a member of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.