Candidates for Utah Senate, the Utah House of Representatives, the Grand County Council, and local school board races tackled a variety of issues and met with members of the public during Monday night’s public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Held at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center on Oct. 8, the 90-minute event featured candidates from eight different races, and was moderated by Times-Independent editor Lisa Church. Under the rules of the forum, each candidate or pair of candidates was given the opportunity to answer two questions, selected by the League, and one minute to make closing remarks to the audience.
In Utah State Senate District 27, incumbent David Hinkins, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Mike Binyon. On their first question, the two candidates disagreed sharply on the issue of the state taking control of more federal lands. Hinkins was in favor of the idea, citing the increased revenue that could be generated from timber, gas, and oil production. But Binyon said he was “absolutely opposed” to the idea, saying that the state wouldn’t be able to afford to manage lands currently under federal government control.
“I think it’s a foolish exercise,” he added.
Both men, however, were in agreement that state legislators should not be allowed to also work as paid lobbyists, although Hinkins did note that members of the Utah Legislature serve part-time, and that anyone can technically be called a lobbyist if they encourage people to vote a certain way on an issue, even if they are not paid for their efforts. Restrictions on lobbyists shouldn’t stop people from advocating for issues they believe in, he added.
Hinkins, a resident of Orangeville, was first elected to the Utah Senate in 2008. Binyon said he has lived in Utah since 1976 and in Moab since 1999.
In Utah House of Representatives District 69, incumbent Christine Watkins, a Democrat from Price, is being challenged by Jerry Anderson, a Republican who is also from Price. Watkins is seeking her third two-year term, having served in the Utah Legislature since January 2009.
Responding to a question regarding the federal Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Watkins said she believes there is “more good than bad” in the act, but said that measures must be taken to control costs and make health care accessible and affordable. Anderson said skyrocketing insurance costs are hurting business owners. He said that while the country’s health-care woes need to be addressed, “I don’t think Obamacare is the answer.”
In Utah House of Representatives District 70, which now includes parts of Grand County, Republican incumbent Kay McIff of Richfield is being challenged by Democrat Wayne Hoskisson of Moab. On the subject of a proposed water pipeline from Lake Powell to Kanab and St. George, Hoskisson said he was opposed to the idea, noting that there is no guarantee that sufficient water would even be available. But McIff said he supports the pipeline proposal, calling it “a way to preserve our entitlement to our share of Colorado River water.”
Both House District 70 candidates did agree that more money should be spent on public education. A third candidate in that race, Constitution Party candidate L.S. Brown of Richfield, did not attend Monday’s forum.
Grand County Council
In the Grand County races, four of the seven seats on the Grand County Council are up for grabs, but only two are being contested. The two candidates who are running unopposed are Elizabeth Tubbs in District 4 and Lynn Jackson for an at-large seat. Tubbs and Jackson were present at Monday’s event, but did not participate in the forum.
In Grand County Council District 2, incumbent Ken Ballantyne is seeking re-election. His challenger, Joe Downard, did not attend Monday’s forum. Contacted on Tuesday, Downard said he plans to make it to the next scheduled candidates forum, the “Civics on Center” event scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 15 in the Moab City Council chambers.
Ballantyne was asked about a proposed new public safety building for Grand County, and said that while there may be a need for such a facility, “we’re not sure how to pay for it.” A resident of Moab since 1980, Ballantyne said his love of service is what motivates him to seek re-election.
In County Council District 5, Rory Paxman and Kalen Jones are both vying for a seat currently held by Chris Conrad, who is not seeking re-election. Paxman cited his experience as a business owner in operating Canyonlands by Night and Day, but added that Grand County needs to look to alternative income sources besides tourism. Jones, owner of an architectural planning firm, cited his experience on the Grand County Planning and Zoning Commission and other boards. He said how the county develops is “critical,” and that Grand County needs to continue to be involved in land use issues in order to maintain a better quality of life for its residents.
Board of Education
On the Grand County Board of Education, three seats are open, but only one incumbent is running for re-election – Jim Webster, who is seeking his third term in school board District 3. Webster is being challenged by Charles Jacobs. Both Webster and Jacobs agreed that helping at-risk or disadvantaged children is a high priority. They both also talked of the financial challenges being faced by schools. Webster said he hopes to help the school district continue to move forward. Jacobs said, “I believe we can do better. I want to challenge the community to do better for the students, whether or not I’m elected.”
In school board District 2, Melissa Byrd and Stacey Downard are vying for the seat currently held by Debra Hren, who is not seeking re-election. Downard did not attend Monday night’s forum. Byrd cited her experience as a volunteer teaching assistant and high school sports coach, and said that class size, student nutrition, and academic achievement are some of her most important priorities.
In school board District 5, Peggy Nissen and Jeanette Kopell are seeking the seat currently held by Ron Olsen. Nissen and Kopell agreed there are times when “Truth in Taxation” tax increases are appropriate, but Kopell said she’d like to see more community involvement in the decision-making process. Nissen described the truth-in-taxation process as a means for the school district to increase revenue without increasing property taxes. But Kopell pointed out that increasing the school district’s tax rate does sometimes result in a hike in property taxes.
Both candidates said they were uncertain whether the Grand County Middle School should be renovated and repaired or entirely rebuilt. “We really need to look at what it would take,” Nissen said. “Can we sustain or afford a new building?”
In the final portion of the forum, current Grand County Council member Chris Baird and Jeramey McElhaney squared off regarding Grand County Ballot Proposition Initiative 1, which asks citizens to approve establishing a study committee to examine whether a change in Grand County’s form of government is warranted. Grand County has had a seven-member non-partisan elected council (with an appointed manager) since January of 1992, when voters approved the switch from a three-person commission form of government.
Baird touted the flexibility of the county’s current form of government, saying that it allows better separation of the executive and legislative components. He also questioned the motives of the petitioners, which he said appear to be part of a partisan agenda driven by the local Republican Party. Baird indicated he’s no fan of partisan politics, and said that changing the form of government would be detrimental to Grand County.
Utah law does not currently allow non-partisan county elections, but Grand County’s form of government is grandfathered in because it was established before the Utah Legislature made changes to the election laws.
McElhaney said that having a partisan council does have certain advantages, such as being able to replace elected officials who have become unable to fulfill the rest of their terms without having to wait until the next election.
McElhaney also noted that the purpose of the ballot initiative is not to change the form of government but to merely provide the go-ahead for a study committee to determine whether or not the current form of government should be changed.
“We have a right to look at the form of our government,” he said. “Power comes from the bottom up, not the top down.”
Several voter-approved steps would have to occur before any changes are actually made, he said afterward, adding that the long process means any measure to actually change the form of government would not appear on the general election ballot until 2014 at the earliest.
Monday’s event was organized and sponsored by the League of Women Voters, a nationwide non-partisan political organization that seeks to improve government and impact public policies through citizen education and advocacy. Grand County’s League chapter began as an at-large unit with 22 members in 1984 and gained full status in 1988. Since that time, the organization has also held voter registration drives and has sponsored workshops for candidates to learn how to conduct effective campaigns. In addition, the league informs voters of any changes in voting laws and procedures.
For more information, contact local chapter president Cynthia Smith at 259-5306.