Herbert, Weinholtz Spar Over Education, Public Lands and Medicaid Expansion

Touted as the “undercard,” GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and Democrat Mike Weinholtz held what likely will be their only televised debate Monday night before the big fight, the main event, took over – Clinton vs. Trump.

And while Weinholtz laid into Herbert like never before, as with any undercard, it’s likely not that many were paying attention.

And, it must be said, Herbert is getting pretty good at this (he even was bouncing on his toes at one point Monday night) and while Weinholtz may have gotten a few punches in, he didn’t knock Herbert off his feet.

Being 38 points behind in the latest UtahPolicy/Dan Jones & Associates poll, Weinholtz needed to crush the current holder of the office – that certainly didn’t happen Monday.

Here are a few highlights if you were eating dinner or just sitting down to watch the real debate battle:

— Several times Weinholtz claimed that Herbert was going to sell off millions of federal acres of land, if the state gets a hold of them.

— Herbert said that was a lie, and Weinholtz knows it. He quoted from a 2012 federal lands transfer bill passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed by Herbert.

The law says, Herbert pointed out to Weinholtz, that if former federal land, now controlled by the state is sold, then 95 percent of that sale price goes back to the feds.

Why would any Utah governor do that? Herbert asked.

— Medicaid seemed like the best punch by Weinholtz.

Several times in the hour-long debate from the campus of Utah State University – sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission – Weinholtz said Herbert failed all Utahns, not just the 111,000 poorer citizens not covered by the Legislature’s solution, who could have been aided by the ACA expansion.

Herbert failed to get the Utah House to approve his Healthy Utah alternative to ACA total acceptance.

“It is a moral outrage,” said Weinholtz, that Herbert didn’t use the power of his office to accept full ACA expansion, bringing back into Utah the $1 billion “Utah taxpayers are already paying” in new ACA taxes.

“You are making my argument for me,” said Herbert, that the Utah House should have accepted his Healthy Utah alternative. But they wouldn’t – claiming the state couldn’t afford it, and couldn’t trust the feds to keep up their 90 percent match promise.

Not afford it? exclaimed Weinholtz. You afford it by taking the feds repayment of the tax money Utahns have already paid — $1 billion.

All the state needed was $44 million as a match, and the state is looking to spend $53 million on a California port that “no one in Utah wants,” said Weinholtz.

“I am not satisfied” with what the Legislature did last session on Medicaid expansion, said Herbert. One of the fine things about Healthy Utah, he said, is that recipients would be trained and aided in new getting new jobs, and taxes paid by Utahns would be coming back, at least in some form.

“Utah is on the right track,” said Herbert, “at least reflecting what I’m doing,” he told Weinholtz.

Citing recent polls (by UtahPolicy), most Utahns believe the state is on the right track, and that’s a direct result of his years in office, said Herbert.

The two men bantered back and forth over education – Herbert repeating how much money, $1.8 billion, has been added to public education over the last few years – mainly because of growth in taxes via the surging economy.

But Weinholtz said again and again that Utah being the last in the nation in per student spending just isn’t good enough – harming so many lives with 38 kids in a classroom and underpaid teachers buying their own supplies.

Besides the large growth in education funding, countered Herbert, the main teachers’ union is endorsing his re-election – even though more must be done, he’s proud of advances made.

Weinholtz said while Utah has advanced (he said Herbert loves statistics) over recent years, many families are struggling and unemployment numbers and GPD growth don’t tell the whole story, and can be used to mask problems that needs to be addressed.

Overall, both men did well in the debate.

No great mistakes were made.

And this likely will be the last gubernatorial debate this election – a full 43 days before the election.