Tanner Ainge is one of three Republicans vying for the 3rd Congressional District seat left vacant by Jason Chaffetz. The 33-year-old investment adviser is not only the youngest candidate in the race but a relative political newcomer. KUER sat down with Ainge in the studio to ask him his thoughts on health care, his famous father and why he decided to run.
Below are excerpts of the conversation.
Ainge: I've spent the last decade in the business world, helping to evaluate and grow companies of all shapes and sizes — from billion-dollar enterprises to small local businesses. ...And it's frustrating watching the federal government and all of our dysfunction, especially our fiscal dysfunction. It's something I've complained about and I've cared about for a long time, but when Congressman Chaffetz stepped down so unexpectedly, I realized this is time for me to get off the sidelines and actually put my experience to work and try to make a difference in Washington, D.C.
Q: A few months ago, The New York Times did this story on Utah having one of the highest increases in enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges. And in Utah County, where the 3rd District is, there was a 26 percent spike, so people are using those exchanges. Do you have any concerns about some of those people losing coverage through a repeal and replace bill? ...Is there a way forward on insurance that allows people to keep what they have?
Ainge: I think so. See, I disagree with some of the narrative that's out there when it comes to Medicaid specifically, in the health care bill. The headline is: There's going to be Medicaid cuts. And people seem to have an emotional reaction to that as if it's going to be pulled out from under those who need it the most. But I don't think that's the case. First of all, it's not a cut; it's a decrease in the rate of the increase. Secondly, we're talking about taking that money and bringing it back to the states, and the states can do such a better job at managing those programs if they don't have all those federal strings attached. ...And I also think under Obamacare, there's a difference between access to care and having health insurance. Some people might be on the program, but they might not be able to go to the doctor that they used to see.
Q: Utah has prided itself on taking a more compassionate approach on issues of immigration and refugees. What's your opinion of President Trump's travel ban, which just took effect?
Ainge: The first priority that we have to focus on is keeping our homeland safe. So if there are things that we can do that are actually going prevent terrorist attacks from happening here on our soil, we need to do it. An issue with the travel security is not only are there concerns with radical Islam, but there's also concerns with some of those nations where their security procedures on their side of the border are not as robust as we would like.
...We have to be careful not to single out entire religious groups. ...That is the First Amendment. And we need to always recognize that — people here in this state recognize know that. So I don't think we can do that, and our public discourse can't make enemies in that way and can't be divisive in that way.
Q: I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up Gordon Hayward. Your father is Danny Ainge, the legendary NBA basketball player and general manager of the Boston Celtics. He persuaded Utah Jazz star Gordon Hayward to go play for him last week. There have been a lot of jokes on social media that your dad may have cost you the election because of that. In all earnestness, do you think this could hurt your chances?
Ainge: Of course not. But it was an interesting day on the 4th of July. I was actually barbecuing with my family, and my dad was in town. Despite what was going in the news, and on ESPN, he didn't know at that time. ...I was hoping he would stay. He was hoping for a phone call that he was coming to the Celtics. It was an interesting time. So later he announced, and I showed up at the Sandy parade, and, sure, there are people razzing me, and making comments, but as I shook their hands and spoke to them, they said 'Hey, we're supporting you.' They're not going to vote in this election about something like Gordon Hayward. They're going to vote based on the the fiscal issues and the economic issues facing this district.
Q: Have you talked to your dad since then?
Ainge: Of course... My dad is incredibly competitive. He is a heartless savage when it comes to sports and winning. And so he was going to do everything he had to do to win. ...We just kind of joked about the potential impact on the campaign.
Note: KUER will interview all three GOP candidates for the 3rd District seat leading up to the August 15 primary. Hear our interview with John Curtis here.