At a forum hosted by the Washington County Board of Realtors, candidates were asked to introduce themselves and to roughly outline their policies and priorities.
Once they started talking, some obvious themes emerged between the two parties, with the Republican incumbents touting the economic growth fostered by fiscally conservative policies at the state level, and the Democratic challengers questioning whether the growth should be better-managed and pointing to the state's low rankings in areas like per-pupil education funding and equal pay for women.
Utah's business-friendly policies have helped foster job growth at more than twice the national average, creating more than 112,000 new jobs since 2012 and lowering the state's unemployment rate to 3.6 percent. The state has been dubbed the "best managed" state in the nation by Forbes Magazine, and has garnered various honors for its tax climate, credit quality and economic development.
Earlier this month, Business Facilities magazine ranked Utah as having the second-best business climate in the country.
"Utah has been recognized as one of the best-run states in the nation, and that doesn't happen by happenstance," said Rep. Lowry Snow, the incumbent in District 74. "It comes because of conservative principles."
But the state faces a variety of unique challenges.
Fast-paced growth is anticipated to create obstacles for environmental preservation and the availability of key resources like water, and the state's uniquely large family sizes make education funding difficult — per-capita, the state ranks as having one of the five lowest income rates.
Dorothy Engelman, a past chairwoman of the Washington County Democratic Party who is running against Snow in District 74, said she has been surveying residents about what challenges face the state, and some common themes illustrate areas where more attention needs to be paid.
"Every one of those people I spoke with was able to say they were unhappy with some things that our state legislature and our state government are doing," she said. "I think it's important to listen to those things, too."
Speaking to an audience of Realtors, much of the discussion focused on growth.
Ken Anderson, the Democratic challenger in District 71, said his experience as a municipal and community planner would be one of his greatest strengths, pointing to the county's citizen-led Vision Dixie process as one that should be followed to keep growth rates manageable.
State projections anticipate Washington County will grow from about 150,000 residents today to nearly 600,000 in the next 50 years.
Shirley Nelson, the Democratic challenger in District 62, said she feels the legislature hasn't done enough to go after polluters, leading to major air quality concerns along the Wasatch Front and fears that similar issues could arise in Washington County.
"Quality of life, and not quantity, will make us stronger," she said.
Rep. Brad Last, the incumbent in District 71, said he acknowledged some of the challenges facing the state as it grows, but argued that he believes strongly in property rights.
"The reason people like to come here is because we're a conservative state, and this is a conservative area, and I'm proud to consider myself a conservative," he said.
Rep. Jon Stanard, the incumbent in District 62, said he has a special appreciation for the relative vibrancy of Southern Utah's economy, arguing that the regressive economy of his hometown of Eureka, California, is a stark contrast.
"Going back and visiting my hometown, it was depressing, and I never even knew that growing up," he said. "But going to a place with no growth, that's regressing, with a struggling economy and no new jobs and no new construction and nothing happening, it was not a great place."
Cheryl Hawker, the challenger to incumbent Rep. Don Ipson in District 75, said she saw a need to balance some of those issues, calling herself a "bipartisan candidate."
"I have a lot of issues that cross lines," she said. "I don't think our party divide needs to be so dominant as it has been."
Ipson was not able to attend the event.
Nihla Judd, a member of the Independent American Party, is also running in District 75.
Get information on state and federal races at elections.utah.gov. For information on Washington County elections, visit washco.utah.gov/clerk/electionInfo.php.
Washington County legislative candidates
• District 62 (Washington City, east side of St. George)
Republican: Jon Stanard (Incumbent).
Democratic: Shirley Nelson.
• District 71 (Hurricane, LaVerkin, eastern side of county)
Republican: Brad Last (I).
Democratic: Ken Anderson.
• District 74 (Santa Clara, Ivins City, Bloomington, parts of west St. George)
Republican: Lowry Snow (I).
Democratic: Dorothy Engelman.
• District 75 (Central St. George, Veyo, Enterprise, SR-18 corridor)
Republican: Don Ipson (I).
Democratic: Cheryl Hawker.
Independent American: Nihla Judd.
Follow David DeMille on Twitter, @SpectrumDeMille.