ST. GEORGE – The Republican candidates for House District 75 met for a debate at the Dixie Center St. George Wednesday and spoke to various issues, from economic development to the Lake Powell Pipeline. Walt Brooks and Steve Kemp are seeking the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated by Rep. Don Ispon.
The debate was the second hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, the first of which was the debate between Washington County Commission candidates Gil Almquist and Dean Cox.
During the debate, Brooks said everyone should take a stand for what they believe in.
“It’s my turn to stand,” he said.
For Brooks, a businessman who runs a small software company, that stand involves making sure the Legislature adheres to the basic principles of the Constitution.
“The government doesn’t give you rights,” Brooks said. “It’s there to protect the rights already granted to you by a greater being.”
Kemp, a commercial realtor, said people should vote for him because he has a unique skill set that will allow him to be the most effective advocate for Southern Utah. One such skill he touted that he said would greatly benefit his potential constituents is his ability to negotiate — a skill honed by 20 years in the commercial real estate field.
“Every day we negotiate with people to do deals and put projects together and to find ways to protect our clients and advocate for them,” Kemp said. “I’m here to do that at the state level.”
Spurring economic growth
Both candidates agreed that reducing state regulations on business would help spur economic growth.
One agency in particular that Kemp said he wanted to cut the bureaucratic red tape on was the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.
Kemp also spoke to recruiting value-added businesses to Utah, using the example of the benefits of Site Select to Washington County.
“We need to bring in value-added companies that will bring in fresh or new dollars to the table,” he said.
Brooks said revenue garnered from the state’s proposed takeover of public lands management could be used to reduce taxes overall and benefit the state economically.
The Lake Powell Pipeline
The pending 140-mile pipeline is an issue where Brooks breaks from the majority of his Republican cohorts. While many — including Kemp — support the idea of the Lake Powell Pipeline with the caveat that it needs to be feasible and affordable, Brooks proposes an alternative.
“There are other options available,” Brooks said. “The water Nevada owns in the Great Basin is actually better quality water, and it’s easier to get to us than the water in Lake Powell.”
There would be work involved in piping the water from the Great Basin and negotiating with Nevada for the rights to the water, Brooks said, but it would be better water at potentially less cost.
While he doesn’t opposed the Lake Powell Pipeline outright, Brooks said it should be a last resort.
Kemp supports the pipeline and said the cost to build it should be shared by all of Utah. Just as Southern Utah counties had to pay into water infrastructure projects across the state, the rest of the state should do the same for the pipeline, he said.
Public lands and dealing with federal agencies
The issue of public lands arose from a question over how to increase resources for education. Both Brooks and Kemp support Utah taking over management of the public lands and using them to economically benefit the people of the state.
One the steps Kemp suggested in helping that come to pass is “demilitarizing” federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management.
“Once we demilitarize these organizations, I think we can begin the process of getting those lands back under the control of the state of Utah,” Kemp said.
Another aspect of the public lands issue was the question of whether it is lawful under the Constitution to tell federal agencies like the BLM “no” while also backing up that stance with force if necessary.
“It’s absolutely constitutional,” Brooks said in relation to the BLM specifically, but he added he was hesitant on the idea of using force.
“Every time there’s been force, it’s ended terribly,” he said.
Brooks said it was constitutional for Utah be in control of its own lands, and the state should use every peaceful and legal means needed to gain management of the public lands.
Kemp also did not agree to the use of force and reiterated his call for the BLM to be “demilitarized.”
When people think of government overreach, Brooks said, they usually think of it at the federal level and not so much at the state level.
“That’s another obligation we have,” Brooks said, “to make sure the state doesn’t overreach into the cities and counties.”
He added that county and city governments should have the freedom to run things as they see fit. As an example of the state overreaching into city issues, Kemp highlighted a piece of legislation proposed earlier this year that would take away a municipality’s ability to deny the establishment of short-term rentals.
“The bill did not get through (the Legislature), and I’m glad it didn’t,” Kemp said. “Because I feel that is something that should be taken care of on the municipal level. We should push the decisions as close as possible to the citizens they will affect the most.”
The primary election is June 28. As there are no Democratic or third-party candidates running for House District 75, the winner of the primary will enter the general election unopposed.
- Walt Brooks campaign website
- Steve Kemp campaign website
- Locations for early voting via the Vote Utah website.
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