With the primary election campaign in full-swing, Republican candidate for governor Jonathan Johnson proposes six debates with two-term Gov. Gary Herbert in six counties throughout the state.
In 2014, the Salt Lake Tribune reported Utah had the third lowest voter turnout in the nation with 28.8% of the voting age population casting ballots. In the article, Justin Lee, deputy director of state elections for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, stated two main reasons for the low turnout: a lack of competitive races and a lack of interest. Now in 2016, Utah is participating in a highly competitive race for governor. Debates between the two candidates highlighting their differences on issues vital to Utahns will increase voter interest and, as a result, increase voter participation.
A major factor in this year’s political race is S.B. 54 – the bill Gov. Hebert signed in 2014 which allows candidates access to the primary ballot by gathering signature petitions. For years, Count My Vote supporters explained their desire to increase voter turnout. And yet none of the many people who funded the Count My Vote effort have demanded debates for the highest office in Utah.
Regarding the multiple locations Johnson stated, “Before Utahns vote, they should be able to compare candidates side-by-side at a time and location convenient for them. At a meeting at the Alta Club, Governor Herbert eagerly told lobbyists he was readily available to meet with their clients for high dollar fundraising meetings. He even stated his Chief of Staff, Justin Harding, would be running the state in his absence while he campaigned full time. If Gov. Herbert is that available for fundraising meetings, it’s time to make room in his schedule for Utah voters.”
Commenting on the one debate already held this year, Johnson said, “A single hour-long debate on a Monday morning is not enough time for Utahns to interview adequately the candidates. Republican voters need more side-by-side comparison opportunities to vet who they want to elect to run the state for the next four years. I’m eager for voters throughout the state to interview me. I hope Gov. Herbert feels the same way.”
Johnson continued, “Simply put, after Gov. Herbert’s 26 years in political office, it’s time for a healthy dialogue with new perspectives of vital Utah issues. Although I don’t support S.B. 54, Count My Vote supporters and I agree on the importance of increasing voter turnout. We can achieve this through frequent debates throughout the state and I hope they will join me in making these debates a priority.”
Last night at a Taylorsville cottage meeting Mike Mower, Gov. Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, spoke to voters on behalf of the Governor. There an attendee asked him if Gov. Herbert would participate in debates for the benefit of primary voters Mike stated, “Yes, there will be debates before the primary election”. Regarding dates, Mike told attendees they were working on them. The Johnson for Governor campaign has yet to receive any material from the Herbert campaign suggesting the planning of debates.