ST. GEORGE – Three of the six Republican gubernatorial candidates met at Dixie State College on April 6, to join in debate before an audience of 60-80 people at the invitation of the Dixie College Republicans Club.
Of those listed by the Lieutenant Governor’s office as having declared candidacy for governor, three Republicans were not participants in the debate: Incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert, said to be unable to attend due to prior commitments; Lane Ronnow, who said that he had not been invited; and William E. Skokos. (Democrat Peter S. Cooke, and Constitution Party’s Kirk D. Pearson and Brandon W. Nay, are the others who have declared candidacy for governor according to the Lt. Governor’s website.)
A range of issues were covered in the debate, including public lands, state sovereignty and the Lake Powell Pipeline. While they expressed their viewpoints with some differences, these candidates seemed to be more of like mind than not, particularly when it came to their determination to stave off federal power, to gain control of public lands one way or another and to supplant Gov. Herbert.
As the candidates mingled with constituents and delegates before the debate began, they were afforded opportunity to present themselves without the constraints of the debate questions.
Kirkham the owner and president of Kirkham Motorsports, a company that does business worldwide and has allowed Kirkham to travel the globe and see what he described as the poverty and suffering overbearing governments had wrought in other counties.
“I have extensive international experience,” he said. “I have seen what happens when government gets too big and I don’t like it.”
Philpot officially entered the gubernatorial contest on March 14, though he has been campaigning since December, 2011. He said Utah needed a new governor because Herbert had actually grown Utah’s dependence on federal monies. He also said the governor had made questionable appointments on the state level when it came to determining public lands policy.
Concerning the Lake Powell Pipeline, Philpot said it was ultimately a matter for the counties involved to deal with and pay for. He would not support a statewide tax for the project.
“I don’t support tax increases, ever,” Philpot said.
Those familiar with the redistricting of Utah’s congressional districts will recognize Sumsion’s name, as he was the co-chair of the Redistricting Committee. Sumsion has also become well known among people who follow issues involving Utah’s public lands.
“[Utah has] more resources than the Middle East,” Sumsion said, speaking of the coal, oil and uranium deposits known to exist in the state. Utah’s people currently have no access to those resources, he said, because of the restrictions enforced by the federal government.
If elected, Sumsion said one of his first acts would be to sue the federal government over the management of public lands. He would then take on the Environmental Protection Agency over recently proposed regulation targeting coal-fired electrical plants.
Sumsion also said he would “pick at the environmentalists like they picked at [Utah].” Specifically, for every lawsuit filed by an environmental advocacy group or individual, the state would file one in return.
The debate invited the three participants to speak to various topics, set forth here with their responses in summary.
Public Lands/ Utah HB 148, the “Transfer of Public Lands Act”
Kirkham said he was in “full of support” of the bill: “We must get our land back,” he said. “We must have access to our lands.”
Sumsion said he spent six years fighting in the Legislature for Utah’s right to its public lands and that he would continue to work for access to public lands where Herbert had not.
“Every politician talks about lands,” Philpot said. Despite his signing HB 148, which Philpot supports, he nonetheless said Herbert did not have the best record when it came to choosing his environmental advisors. Ted Wilson, a former mayor of Salt Lake City and “liberal” as described by Philpot, was chosen by Herbert to be his advisor in 2009. Wilson resigned his position in July 2011 and now serves on the board of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Stance on EPA’s regulation against coal-fired plants
Opponents of the proposed regulation have said it will cause electrical cost to rise and destroy jobs.
“Everything is made by electricity,” Kirkham said. “Where electricity rates are the highest, the poverty is the worst.” He said he is for the cheap power, be it derived from coal or even nuclear power.
To Sumsion, “the EPA is one of the next, big fights;” he said that the states need to “overrun” the environmentalists like they do the states, particularly in the area of litigation. He added the state should support the industries subsequently sued by environmental groups.
“We should do everything in our power to fight it,” Philpot said. “It will take a bold governor to fight federal mandates. … Are you ready to stand against federal usurpation?”
Utah HB 116 – guest worker/“Utah’s amnesty bill,”
The three were in agreement, all disfavor the amnesty bill.
Kirkham said it is illegal, that he would not pass laws that are unconstitutional and asked, “Why are we passing bills like this?” Sumsion said “It doesn’t help anyone, the law solves nothing, and the state can’t afford it.” And Philpot called it “Utah’s sanctuary bill.” He said the government should take away all legal benefits currently enjoyed by “illegal citizens.”
Lake Powell Pipeline
Both Kirkham and Sumsion said the Lake Powell Pipeline would have to be economically viable. And both Kirkham and Philpot said they would not approve or impose any statewide taxes to pay for it and it was a matter for the counties to consider and fund.
“All decisions should be made as close to the people as possible,” Kirkham said. “I hope counties decide on this first,” Philpot said, “– not the (state) government.” And Sumsion said other avenues should be considered.
Plans for State Sovereignty
Although their take on the issue varied, all three arguers resist federal encroachment on states’ rights and powers.
The governor should be the “advocate-in-chief,” not the “commander-in-chief,” Kirkham said. He said he was in favor of litigation pushing the federal government through the courts.
Sumsion said that the state needs to rid itself of reliance on federal funds. As governor, he said that he would approach other governors about their own state’s sovereignty and create a coalition to stand against federal usurpation of state power.
Philpot also wants to “decrease federal dependencies” and he said that he would not accept any money from the federal government.
How will the governor help enable Southern Utah to be as prosperous as northern Utah has been?
Public lands as a resource was a common point of attack between the candidates. But they each had additional points unique to themselves.
Kirkham’s solution focused on Utah’s children: “Our No. 1 export is our kids,” he said. Children get educated in Utah, and then move out to find better jobs outside of the state. He also said that he would encourage more small businesses to grow and come into Utah and that he would lower business tax and regulations.
Helping rural areas become viable again by opening up public lands to resource harvesting was Sumsion’s solution, relating the question to a public lands and state sovereignty issue.
Philpot agreed that opening up public lands to resources harvesting is one solution, and also said he would cut back on the regulation over business. “Get government out of the economy,” he said.
What makes you different than the other gubernatorial candidates?
Kirkham said he had seen the devastating effects government overreach had in other countries. He did not want to see that happen in Utah. He added that he knew how to work in adverse conditions, so moving from business to government would not be a difficult move for him. He also emphasized his international business experience, in which he “got things done,” streamlined procedures, and would do the same in the governor’s seat.
“The greatest feeling on earth is to give someone a job and watch them succeed,” Kirkham said. “I want to do that for this state.”
Leadership was the point Sumsion wanted to make: “We need leadership,” which he said Herbert had not delivered. Sumsion highlighted his professional and legislative experience. As a “finance guy,” he said he can bring his experience as a CPA to state budgetary decisions.
Philpot had the last word. “Anyone but Herbert,” he said. He promised to get politics out of the economy and shrink regulation. The major difference between Herbert and himself, Philpot said, was that the people of Utah would see government spending lessen while their personal incomes went up.
Contributing writer: Joyce Kuzmanic
Copyright 2012 St. George News.