Monday’s debate featuring the Republican candidates for governor will be one of the highest-profile political events in Utah this year as the four candidates will face off ahead of the June primary vote. However, some questions about the impartiality of the event’s moderator are starting to bubble to the surface.
Retired KSL television newsman Bruce Lindsay was tapped by the Utah Debate Commission as moderator for the hour-long event that will be the first televised faceoff between Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright. Those four men are vying for the Republican Party nomination in the June primary. Utah has not elected a Democrat for governor since 1980, so the winner of the Republican contest will immediately be the heavy favorite to
While many Utahns may know of Lindsay’s long career as a journalist for KSL television, they may not be aware of his more recent endeavors. Lindsay recently became the face of the fledgling United Utah Party, recording promotional videos for the nascent political entity posted to Facebook, and delivering the keynote address for the party’s 2020 state convention.
In one of the videos posted to Facebook, Lindsay attacks the state’s poor record on education funding.
“Our children’s educational performance in Utah is about average for the nation. That’s unacceptable,” says Lindsay. “The fault lies with our state legislators and governor who seem satisfied with mediocrity.”
In another video, titled “Vote for someone who will listen,” Lindsay tears into the Utah Legislature for not listening to Utahns.
“Voters want a legislature that is responsive to us and doesn’t consider the will of the people to be merely an optional consideration,” he said.
At the end of both videos, Linsday asks the viewer to support United Utah Party candidates for the legislature in the upcoming election.
Is it proper for the moderator of an event put on by a non-partisan organization to be pushing such partisan rhetoric? While there is no United Utah Party candidate in the governor’s race, it seems like a questionable decision to give such a prestigious assignment to Lindsay given his vocal support for another political party, and could invite criticism about his impartiality.
Nena Slighting, executive director of the Debate Commission says they are aware of Lindsay’s partisan connections, but they’re not concerned as he’s moderated debates for them previously.
“We are confident in his experience and professionalism,” said Slighting. “When he previously moderated a debate for us he did a great job, and we think Utahns will trust him to do so again.”
Slighting said she had not heard any concern from the four candidates for governor about Lindsay’s connections to the United Utah Party, and did not anticipate it presenting a problem.
Lindsay’s affiliation with the UUP was news to one Republican gubernatorial campaign staffer.
“It would be like (Republican Party Chairman) Derek Brown moderating a Democratic primary debate,” they said, asking that their name not be used. They noted that allowing Lindsay to control a debate given his political activism is shocking and may present a problem for them. “It’s crazy. That just shouldn’t be allowed.”
Slighting brushed off any suggestion that the choice of Lindsay to helm the gubernatorial debate is improper by noting that the three other moderators chosen for next weeks debates, radio talk show host Rod Arquette, BYU professor David Magleby and Salt Lake Tribune Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce, also have affiliations with political parties.
“It doesn’t concern us and we have no questions about impartiality,” she said.
It must be noted that those three, Arquette, Magleby and Napier-Pearce, have not acted as a spokesperson for a political party, nor have they actively pushed for the election of candidates from one party over another.
The United Utah Party was founded in 2017 by former Utah County Democratic Party Chairman and BYU professor Richard Davis who felt there was an appetite for a more centrist political organization following the 2016 presidential election. Davis, who is the current chairman of the party, was also one of the founders of the Utah Debate Commission.
Y2 Analytics polling for UtahPolicy.com and KUTV 2News shows the GOP primary for governor to be a tight race between Cox and former Huntsman. Cox has a seven percentage point lead over Huntsman 39-32 percent. Hughes is in third place with 23 percent, while Wright is in fourth place with 6 percent support.
On Tuesday, UtahPolicy.com reported that Gov. Gary Herbert tried to intervene in the race by asking Wright to drop out and endorse Cox, who Herbert has endorsed to succeed him as governor when he leaves office next year. Wright made it clear he had no intention of dropping out of the contest.