ST. GEORGE – On Friday evening, Washington County attorney candidates, Brock Belnap, incumbent, and Nathan Caplin, challenger, took the stage in front of a full house at the Dixie State University Jennings Communication Building to participate in “Meet the Candidates LIVE,” an interactive, televised, live-streamed debate.
Hosted with the combined efforts of Southern Utah LIVE, KCSG Television and St. George News, the live debate harnessed the collective powers of television, the Internet and social media to help Washington County voters know and understand the candidates before they go to the Republican Primary polls on June 24. It was the first broadcast of its kind in the county.
“This is the first time we have broadcast a live political debate by using the Internet, television, satellite and cable technologies,” John Anderson, CEO of Southern Utah LIVE, said at the opening of the debate.
The debate will be rebroadcast on KCSG TV Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 10 p.m. and can be seen at this link.
The candidates, both Republicans, will be on the ballot in Tuesday’s primary election, and by virtue of not having a contender from the Democratic party, the winner of the primary poll will become the next county attorney.
The debate was well attended by a live studio audience of concerned voters, family and friends of the candidates and notable local political figures from both the Republican and Democratic parties such as Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Dorothy Engleman, Democratic Candidate for House District 74.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic was the moderator for the evening’s debate taking the candidates through eight rounds of questions deriving from current issues, and questions submitted by community members via email, Facebook and Twitter; questions were submitted previous to, and during the live debate.
Each candidate was allowed a two-minute opening statement before the rounds of questioning began and were also given two minutes at the end of the debate for closing statements.
The questions were addressed to the candidates in alternating order with two minutes being allowed to the primary responder, one and a half minutes allowed for rebuttal and a final thirty seconds for a surrebuttal.
A broad spectrum of topics that ranged from marijuana use to same-sex marriage was represented in the submitted questions and were asked in order as follows:
- Does the Washington County Attorney’s Office strike the correct balance between trying cases and accepting plea deals?
- Is Washington County doing enough to make sure citizens in Hildale are safe?
- Juveniles can commit egregious offenses. At what age and under what circumstances should they be tried as an adult?
- Several Utah Sheriffs have taken stands against the federal government on issues like gun ownership, wild horses and the Bureau of Land Management. What is the proper role and authority of the county sheriff concerning public lands and highways? What will you do in regards to those powers and contests?
- As county attorney you interface with, support, advise and defend the County Commission. In Southern Utah this year alone, commissioners have formally resolved to deny federal agencies a number of things: prescribed burns, right to transport Bundy cattle across land, enforcement of off-highway vehicle restrictions on public lands and management of wild horse populations. With particularity please describe your approach to your county commissioners – relationally, historically, prospectively or otherwise.
- When claims emerge against a city or town within the county, or its governing officials, will you take initiative for or against that city, to investigate, mediate, prosecute or defend claims? Who do you represent in such cases – the city or the people?
- If the Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage is legal nationally, would you allow that ruling to stand in Washington County?
- Marijuana use is prevalent in Washington County. Should we enforce every marijuana infraction or spend our resources elsewhere?
Both Belnap and Caplin responded to the questions and to each other in a very civil and courteous way and rather than argue over the talking points they each used their time to answer the questions in a way that served to express how they have served (in Belnap’s case) or will serve the people in the position of county attorney and to tout their knowledge and experience.
Addressing the issue of plea deals versus prosecution, Belnap pointed to his experience as the incumbent in dealing with the staggering number of cases – up to 3,000 per year – that are seen in the county attorney’s office stating that it would be impossible to take every case to jury trial but remaining firm in the fact that justice must be served.
“The practical reality is that plea agreements are a necessary part of the job,” Belnap said, “the key is to make sure they are doing justice in taking those plea deals. We seek to do justice in every case.”
Caplin’s rebuttal acknowledged the fact that plea deals are a “fact of life,” but expounded on the argument citing fiscal responsibility to the public in accepting those deals and offering the services of rehabilitation to those who might best benefit from guidance rather than extreme punishment.
“We have to be fiscally conservative in doing justice,” Caplin said, “the reality is we have limited resources.”
The same-sex marriage question proved to be one of the more sticky issues of the night. Both candidates describe themselves as conservative Republicans but stated that as lawyers they had sworn an oath to uphold the law regardless of their personal beliefs.
Belnap remained steadfast in his commitment to upholding the law of same-sex marriage were it to be handed down from the ultimate authority stating that not only had he sworn that oath but that, should he not, he would subject the county to liability and the possibility of being sued.
“I swore an oath to uphold the law regardless of my personal opinion,” Belnap said, “even if it is politically unpopular.”
Caplin also said he would uphold a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and not subject the county to liability but made it clear to the public where he stood personally on the issue.
“I would not open up the county to liability,” Caplin said, “but I will do all I can to defend traditional marriage.”
Regarding the protection of the citizens of Hildale and the members of the FLDS faith, Caplin, who is the city prosecutor for Hildale does not believe the county is doing enough to protect the women and children there and to give them their basic human rights.
“There is still a lot of oppression over the regular citizens in Hildale,” Caplin said, “the key is to afford the same rights and protections of the Constitution to everyone, my priority is to uphold the Fourth Amendment, to protect women and children.”
Belnap is proud of the accomplishments that have been made in Hildale during his tenure as county attorney and pointed to the prosecution of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the FLDS church. He also spoke to a special relationship he has with the “people out there,” and the various ways of keeping them safe including an operating underground railroad to help oppressed women and children escape.
Both men spoke similarly on many issues and concerns of the county including federal government encroachment, upholding the Constitution, drug use and distribution and maintaining our basic rights of life, liberty and property. But, while the themes may have been similar, each candidate remained unique in the way they would approach the job as county attorney and the experience and ideas they would bring to the position.
For Belnap, experience as the incumbent, as a county prosecutor, is what he believes will win out. In his opening statement he compared himself to a doctor who has performed surgery hundreds of times as opposed to one who has no experience with performing surgery and asked the audience which doctor they would prefer to go to.
“Who do you want to hire for county attorney?” Belnap said. “You want to hire someone with experience and a proven track record of getting things done.”
Caplin pointed to his experience in civil litigation and considers himself a bridge builder between the “extreme cultural parameters” that exist in the county. He believes he is set apart from his opponent by his education and knowledge of the Constitution and by his unique vision for “spreading the movement of liberty from the grassroots up,” Caplin said.
Both men were grateful for the opportunity to participate in what they called “a positive exchange of ideas.”
The primary election will take place on Tuesday.
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- Missed it? Want to see it again? Watch the debate here
- Nathan Caplin invites voters to discuss ideas; county attorney primary
- Hiring a county attorney: Why Belnap makes sense for Washington County
- Caplin focuses on constitutional knowledge, Belnap touts experience
- Brock Belnap holds neighborhood meetings, county attorney primary
- Dixie Republican Forum hosts county attorney debate
- Dates, locations for early primary voting
- Southern Utah LIVE televises county attorney debate
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