In front of a mostly-full audience at the Dixie State University Gardner Center, all four of the incumbents defended the state's GOP-dominated decision-making, touting repeatedly the state's growing economy and reputation for business-friendliness, while challengers from the Democratic Party and Independent American Party argued for a change in philosophy.
Audience members listen while candidates for Utah House District 74, Dorothy Engelman (D) and Lowry Snow¨ and District 75 candidates Don Ipson(R) and Nihla Judd (I), from left to right debate the issues Monday, Sep. 22, 2014 on the campus of Dixie State University. (Photo: Jud Burkett / The Spectrum & Daily News)"My thought is that when you brainstorm and you try to find solutions, if everyone is of the same mindset you'll never get new ideas," said Dorothy Engelman, the Democratic challenger taking on incumbent Lowry Snow in the 74th District.
Democrats Ken Anderson, taking on incumbent Brad Last in District 71, and Shirley Nelson, challenging incumbent Jon Stanard in District 62, all advocated for positions commonly held by Democrats throughout the state. They argued that the state's lowest-in-the-nation per-pupil education shows the Legislature's inattention to preparing of the future, that the state's second-lowest-in-the-nation 3.6 percent unemployment is fueled too heavily by low-wage jobs, and that the GOP-led effort to take control of the state's vast tracts of federally owned lands is foolhardy.
Nihla Judd, a member of the Independent American Party taking on incumbent Don Ipson in District 75, agreed with the Republicans on some topics — that the state should challenge a court ruling striking down its ban on same-sex marriages, that the state should continue its effort to seize control of federally held lands within its borders, and that regulation puts a stranglehold on business development — but disagreed in some areas, such as the Lake Powell Pipeline, a large-scale water project that she opposes without having been vetted by voters.
"We should not allow this to go through without a citizen vote," she said, questioning who might benefit financially from the project.
Cheryl Hawker, a Democrat challenging Ipson in District 75, was unable to attend because of a family illness.
The Republican incumbents defended their records, and their takes on the issues, arguing that the GOP's conservative leadership has helped Utah to foster job growth at more than twice the national average, creating more than 112,000 new jobs since 2012, and developing a reputation as the "best managed" state in the nation by publications like Forbes Magazine.
The issues of public lands and education are tied together, they argued, noting that the revenue that could be generated from the development of natural resources like oil and natural gas held on federal property could help make up for the gap in education the state faces with its large families and small proportion of tax-paying workers.
"For us to get up to the amount of money it would take to get to the average (per-pupil education spending) it would take $5 billion," Snow said. "Our entire budget is $13 billion. It's time we had a serious discussion with the federal government about accessing our lands and funding our children."
Candidates for Utah House District 74, Dorothy Engelman (D) and Lowry Snow (R), and District 75 candidates Don Ipson (R) and Nihla Judd (I), from left to right debate, the issues Monday on the campus of Dixie State University.(Photo: Jud Burkett / The Spectrum & Daily News)
Sponsored by The Spectrum's Editorial Board and DSU, it was the first in a series of debates and other events slated this week as part of the university's Political Involvement Week, developed to encourage students to get politically involved and learn more about ongoing issues.
On Tuesday, another debate is slated between the four candidates for two open seats on the Washington County Commission — Republicans Zachary Renstrom and Victor Iverson and Democrats Chris White and Paul Van Dam. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Gardner Center, with attendees encouraged to park by the gymnasium at the corner of 300 South and 700 East.
Follow David DeMille on Twitter, @SpectrumDeMille.