I hope everyone had the opportunity to watch or listen to the gubernatorial debate on Monday night. Although maybe not as entertaining as the debate that immediately followed, the hour-long exchange between our current Governor Gary Herbert and his challenger, Mike Weinholtz, hit a variety of issues that are important to residents around our state.
It was clear Weinholtz came out swinging from the very first question, putting Herbert on the defensive for the policies he has supported over the past seven years of his administration. Although I already knew most of the positions of our governor before this debate, the way he defended his record last night gave me fresh perspective on his policies and how they would continue to affect our state for another four years.
First, Herbert’s “free market” policies are not working for the betterment of our state. When asked what he would do to increase funding for public education, he said that he would continue growing the economy. We’ve been building our economy for the past seven years, and of course we need to continue doing so, however, we are still fifty-first in the nation for per-pupil spending and are struggling to retain qualified teachers in our schools. Herbert really stuck to his firm belief in the free market when discussing why the minimum wage should not be raised in Utah. His reasoning was that the free market will determine who are the winners and losers in our economy. Does this mean that those who families who are working minimum wage jobs are therefore losers, and thus undeserving of help to better their standard of living?
Second, Herbert’s disdain for the federal government is getting in the way of good policy. He blamed the failure to legalize a limited medical marijuana this past session on the federal government because they haven’t rescheduled marijuana from its current Schedule 1 status, even though twenty-five other states have already done so. He blamed the failure to expand Medicaid on the federal government because it passed the Affordable Care Act, which takes money from the states and does not give it back in the form of grants for states to spend it in the way they would like. And he blamed his public lands policies on the federal government because of its supposed “poor management” of the lands, even though economists have said that our state government most likely would not be able afford to manage the lands. We deserve a governor who proactively acts for us, rather than blaming policy failures on a far-away bogeyman so that he can score points with his conservative base.
Finally, Herbert solely rests his bid for reelection on statistics that supposedly support his past performance, rather than setting any clear policies or vision for the future. However, if we look past the statistics at the reality of his policies, we begin to see a clearer picture of that future. If we continue down the path of the Herbert administration’s policies, our public schools will continue to stagnate, tens of thousands of low-income individuals will continue to suffer without health insurance, our air quality will continue to deteriorate, public lands will continue to be sold off to oil and mineral interests, and millions of dollars will continue to be wasted in the name of frivolous lawsuits. Is this what we want Utah to continue to be?
The gubernatorial debate may have been overshadowed by the presidential debate that immediately followed. However, the juxtaposition of the two forums only solidified in my mind the importance of state and local elections. The election for governor has the potential to shape policies for the next four years that will affect our health, education, economic growth, the enjoyment of our state’s natural beauty, and so much more. I hope that everyone will look into the positions being put forth by all the candidates – local, state, and national – and commit to get out to vote on November 8th.