Modified ‘debate’ features Utah AG Reyes and empty podium

ST. GEORGE – Two candidates for Utah Attorney General were present during what was referred to as a “modified debate” at Dixie State University Wednesday evening. However, while Republican incumbent Sean Reyes was on stage, the podium next to him was vacant due to the sudden withdrawal of Democratic opponent Jon Harper from the race that morning for unspecified medical reasons.

Andrew McCullough, Libertarian candidate for Utah Attorney General, speaks to meda at the "modified" Utah Attorney General dabate as an attendee and not a participant. He was not allowed to participate due to not reaching a required polling threshold set by the Utah Debate Commission, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Andrew McCullough, Libertarian candidate for Utah Attorney General, speaks to media at the “modified” Utah Attorney General debate as an attendee and not a participant. He was not allowed to participate due to not reaching a required polling threshold set by the Utah Debate Commission, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

So who was the other candidate?

Attorney and Utah Libertarian Party Chair Andrew McCullough was present, though sitting in the audience rather than appearing on stage with the incumbent.

Unlike Reyes and Harper, McCullough did not qualify to join the debate due to not meeting the Utah Debate Commission’s threshold in polling. Still, he had already planned to attend so he could be at least seen and heard, he said.

“All of a sudden people want to talk to me,” McCullough said prior to the debate. “When I woke up this morning I was absolutely nobody. It’s kind of exciting.”

McCullough did express concern for Harper’s health, which was cited as the reason for his withdrawing from the race. As a result of that withdrawal though, McCullough said he’s been flooded with media attention.


Read more: Harper withdraws from Utah Attorney General race


“For me and the Libertarian Party, it’s very exciting,” he said. “And now we’ve got a real opportunity to be heard in the statewide race.”

Campaign signs for Utah Attorney Libertarian candidate Andrew McCullough and Republican incumbent Sean Reyes set against the wall while the "modified" Utah Attorney General dabate takes place, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Campaign signs for Utah Attorney Libertarian candidate Andrew McCullough and Republican incumbent Sean Reyes sit against the wall while the “modified” Utah Attorney General debate takes place, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

As a Libertarian, McCullough described himself as a person who believes in an open and free society, versus how he described Reyes, who he said was a “law and order” kind of guy.

“If you’re going to smoke marijuana, it’s your business and none of mine,” McCullough said, highlighting one of the issues Libertarians have become known for – the legalization of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use.

Despite not being able to participate in the debate, McCullough nonetheless took the opportunity to hand out campaign information and signs to interested parties.

When asked if McCullough should have had the chance to debate Wednesday night, Reyes said he wouldn’t second guess the Utah Debate Commission concerning its rules.

“Would he have brought some great perspectives? Sure,” Reyes said of McCullough. “The Utah Debate Commission is a great organization and in order to have integrity, you have to abide by the rules, and I’m not going to second guess my friends on the debate commission.”

Jon Harper, Democratic candidate for Utah Attorney General in the 2016 election, announced his withdrawal from the race on Sept. 21, 2016, citing medical reasons, location and date of photo unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Harper Campaign, St. George News
Jon Harper, Democratic candidate for Utah Attorney General in the 2016 election, announced his withdrawal from the race on Sept. 21, 2016, citing medical reasons, location and date of photo unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Harper Campaign, St. George News

As to being a solo act on the debate floor, Reyes said he was disappointed and concerned.

“I was worried about Jon,” he said. “Having him not just miss the debate but withdraw from the race, that made me concerned for him.”

Reyes added that campaigns can be grueling, particularly for the candidates involved, and said he hopes that Harper’s health issues, whatever they may be, won’t be long-term.

“We really wish our best to Jon Harper and his family,” Reyes said.

At the beginning of the debate, which was changed to a town hall format and thus dubbed a “modified debate” by organizers, Bruce Lindsay, a longtime KSL TV news anchor who acted as the moderator, said the commission had a reason for keeping the debate going despite the loss of a candidate.

The purpose behind not calling off the event is so a candidate does not have the power to sink the debate by not showing up, he explained, adding the debate goes on with or without the candidate.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks at the "modified" Utah Attorney General dabate as the only participant. Democrat opponent Jon Harper withdrew from the race for health reasons, and third party candidates were unable to qualify in polling to participate, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks at the “modified” Utah Attorney General debate as the only participant. Democrat opponent Jon Harper withdrew from the race for health reasons and third party candidates were unable to qualify in polling to participate, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Brian September 21, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    I’m pretty libertarian, but the thing the Libertarian candidate and party need to understand is that you need to have libertarian government and laws BEFORE you can have libertarian rights. For instance, he’s exactly right, if you want to smoke marijuana all day it’s none of my business. UNLESS I’m forced to pay for your healthcare and unemployment benefits due to our socialistic laws (thanks for nothing, obamacare!), then it IS my business, quite literally. You can’t have it both ways, otherwise you are infringing on my rights and my liberty (literally picking my pocket to subsidize your choices).

    I’m glad they still went on with the debate. The more dialogue the better.

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