SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - For the first time this election season, Utah’s four gubernatorial candidates from major parties sat at the same table and discussed what one political group said are Utah’s top issues.
The lunch with the future governor event was part of the unveiling of the Utah Foundation’s 2016 Utah Priorities list. It’s a project the Utah Foundation has done for the past several elections, surveying voters to understand what issues they think are the most important.
The list puts health care and air quality at the top of the priorities list, followed by education and state taxes and government spending. Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes said the purpose is to help guide campaign discussions.
“We don’t want the candidates trying to sling mud at each other and do personality attacks and stuff,” he said. "We want to try and influence them to focus on the issues that matter the most.”
Thursday’s panel was fairly mild in terms of discussion, with candidates mostly focusing on their stance on the issues, and trying to sell themselves to the audience, which was made up mostly of foundation donors.
But all three challengers made sure to point out the difference between them and incumbent Governor Gary Herbert.
“He’s a career politician, I’m not,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson. ““We need someone who will do the right thing. Even if it’s unpopular, and even if it’s not political.”
Johnson and Herbert along with Democratic candidates Mike Weinholtz and Vaughan Cook all agreed the issues on the list were important ones, but differed on the approach. Weinholtz argued the Utah legislature failed to protect Utahns through their minimally expanded Medicaid bill.
“One hundred Utahns die a year because of lack of affordable health care coverage," Weinholtz said. “We need to expand Medicaid fully. That’s what Utah values are, we take care of our people.”
Herbert said his original Healthy Utah plan, which failed to pass the legislature, would have provided options for Utahns. He said he’s committed to looking for answers.
On the issue of air quality, Herbert pointed out the fact that under his leadership the state has improved emissions by about 30 percent in the last several years. He recognized there was still more to do.
Challengers, however, said greater education on the issue and stricter penalties for non-compliance would be options for making sure everyone was doing their part to clean up Utah’s air.
"I think clean air will be improved as we continue to be aggressive,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vaughn Cook. “As we continue to be aggressive in educating ourselves and educating people in our state as to the things they're doing."
Candidates say they look forward to future discussions on the issues.
“We should have more debates before the primary,” Johnson said. “And then there should be more debates before the general election. The more information the people have, the better decision they’ll make.”
In the past, Herbert has declined invitations to debate, but Thursday he said he would welcome opportunities to discuss the issues.
“Right now its 4,000 delegates, so we need to go out there and meet with the delegates, and talk to them about their track record and successes we’ve had,” Herbert said. “I’m prepared to defend that.”
Other issues on the list include jobs and the economy, water quality and supply and crime.
The entire 2016 Priorities report can be found online here.
The Top 10 Issues for 2016 according to the Utah Foundation are:
- Health care
- Air quality
- K-12 education
- State taxes and government spending
- Jobs and the economy
- Water supply and quality
- Partisan politics
- Homelessness and poverty
- The environment