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Utah Democrats spar for Rob Bishop's seat in 1st District race

SALT LAKE CITY — There's no shortage of spark in the primary race for Utah's 1st Congressional District, where two Democrats are battling each other for the chance to take on incumbent Rob Bishop this November.

Lee Castillo and Kurt Weiland are not only miles apart geographically — Castillo lives in Layton and Weiland hails from Bountiful — but both have vastly different backgrounds.

Castillo, 40, is a social worker for the Utah State Hospital, working in county jails with inmates to help restore their mental competency.

Weiland, 72, is a retired Army major and paratrooper who owns a consulting business teaching leadership and communication workshops for corporate clients.

FILE - Lee Castillo campaigns during the Juneteenth Festival in Ogden on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

FILE - Lee Castillo campaigns during the Juneteenth Festival in Ogden on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Kurt Weiland participates in a service project recently.

Kevin Johnson

Kurt Weiland participates in a service project recently.

Both, however, say the current presidential administration motivated them to run for Congress.

"We as a nation have gone down the rabbit hole. All the old models have been turned on their heads," Weiland said. "I've got to do something."

Castillo said he saw a need for change.

"I felt a calling. I prayed. I felt there was a need for some challenge and a need to give voice to those I already serve."

Both men are affable and engaging, but the race has not been without an ugly side.

Kurt Weiland is interviewed at his Bountiful home on Friday, June 15, 2018.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Kurt Weiland is interviewed at his Bountiful home on Friday, June 15, 2018.

The two were in a confrontation at the Davis County Democratic Party Convention on April 14 in which the police were called but no charges arose.

Castillo said Weiland put his hand on his arm during a dispute over a campaign sign. The two traded harsh words and have not completely moved on from the exchange.

For now, however, they are concentrating on the chance to best GOP incumbent Bishop from the seat he has held since 2003.

Both men assert Bishop is out of touch with his constituents and making political moves contrary to the wishes of voters, including supporting the administration's move to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments.

Lee Castillo campaigns during the Juneteenth Festival in Ogden on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Lee Castillo campaigns during the Juneteenth Festival in Ogden on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Castillo, a single Hispanic father of an adopted 17-year-old son, said he is part of the community that feels disenfranchised from Washington politics.

"I am part of that disenfranchised group in Davis County. There are huge pockets of minorities who have felt disenfranchised," he said. "… We have had lots of voter registration events where people are planning to vote for the first time."

His campaign slogan is "Utah is for Everybody."

Weiland said the party asked him to run — like it did two years ago when he challenged Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, for his seat in the Utah House of Representative.

"It was a good experience. We gained more votes for Democrats than ever in the history of the district, but still got crushed like a bug."

Weiland said a cornerstone of his campaign is accessibility.

"I see one of the critical issues of the campaign as access to government," he said. "Those who represent you must listen to you, must spend time with you and get to know you."

Both men favor banning bump stocks that allow guns to fire faster, and Weiland said he is in favor of eliminating large capacity magazines.

Weiland insists gun violence should be solved before it ever gets to that stage. Schools need to hire more counselors so isolated or angry students are identified and receive help, he added.

Although he personally would ban assault weapons, Castillo said his views take a back seat because that is not how Utahns feel.

"My feelings for that get set aside. There are gun manufacturers in my district and that is how they make their money," he said.

He does favor universal background checks and finding a way to establish a system that would flag bulk purchases.

"We need to make it harder for someone who wants to do harm to harm to our community," Castillo said.

Lee Castillo campaigns during the Juneteenth Festival in Ogden on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Lee Castillo campaigns during the Juneteenth Festival in Ogden on Saturday, June 16, 2018.

Castillo is a political newcomer with a long history of volunteer work, including with the Utah Pride Center, the Volunteers of America Homeless Youth Resource Center, the Road Home and Meals on Wheels.

"It is what wakes me up in the morning. It is what keeps me alive, the ability to serve."

He's also earned the endorsement of a dozen Democratic caucuses, including the Hispanic, disability and progressive.

Weiland and Castillo both support single-payer universal health care.

Castillo stresses immigration reform is a must.

"There has to be a logical, attainable pathway to citizenship," Castillo said.

Both men say they support the medical cannabis initiative but don't favor legalizing recreational use of the drug.

Kurt Weiland is interviewed at his Bountiful home on Friday, June 15, 2018.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Kurt Weiland is interviewed at his Bountiful home on Friday, June 15, 2018.

Weiland wants to bring his leadership and communication skills to Congress and vows to have monthly town halls to reach out to residents in the 1st District.

Castillo says his youth keeps him connected to the community through his service.

"I belive that everybody deserves to be respected and has to have an opportunity to have health care, to thrive, to have access to education, and to be able to function in the community without discrimination and equality as well."

At a May debate in Provo, Castillo said he would make history by becoming the first openly gay Hispanic Utahn to serve in Congress.

The primary is June 26. At the convention, Castillo earned 53 percent of the delegates votes to Weiland's 47 percent.