ST. GEORGE – Taxes, water and growth were the primary issues on the minds of voters during a “Meet the Candidates” night Wednesday when St. George City Council candidates had a chance to speak directly to the electorate … and face a challenge by the forum chair to sign a pledge on how they would govern if elected.
The event, held at the Washington County Commission Chambers was sponsored by the Dixie Republican Forum. It drew about 100 people interested in learning about the six candidates running for office: Michele Randall and Joe Bowcutt, incumbents; Gregg McArthur, Bryan Thiriot and Marc Stallings, challengers.
At the beginning of the meet-and-greet, Forum Chair Larry Meyers asked each of the candidates to sign a pledge agreeing to support city ordinances or resolutions that support the following goals: defend second amendment rights; cut spending and reduce taxes; reduce and eliminate unconstitutional federal funding of municipal projects and programs; and enforce city business licensing requirements against local businesses that hire people living in the country illegally.
The City Council election is nonpartisan and Meyers said the proposed pledge does not represent any political party. It does, however, represent values championed by conservatives such as those belonging to the Dixie Republican Forum. The founder of the Dixie Republican Forum later told St. George News he puts a great deal of weight on who to vote for according to which candidates were willing to sign the pledge.
“I think it’s important we get their agreement to these principles in writing,” Meyers said, “that way they can be held to it.”
Several of the candidates refused to sign the pledge including Bowcutt and Randall, incumbents, and McArthur and Thiriot. They all said they support the same principles outlined in the document but for different reasons and did not feel it appropriate to sign the pledge.
Randall specifically called out the section on “reducing and eliminating unconstitutional federal funding of municipal projects and programs,” arguing that without federal monies the city would not have Switchpoint, a shelter for St. George area homeless.
Bowcutt said that without federal funds the council would be strapped to fulfill state mandates.
“I know sometimes those things cause us to be beholden to the federal government,” Bowcutt said, “but I think sometimes without those grants or without some of that money, we’re pretty stressed to meet all the requirements we have from the state.”
Stallings and Aldred both said they adamantly support the document and its principals and were more than willing to sign their names.
“I agree with all this. I signed it about five minutes ago,” Aldred said. “I’ve been a concealed carrier for many years. I love that right, I hope all of you are packing ‘cuz you guys are the good guys, I want you to defend me …. Thank you for this Larry and thank you for letting me give my two cents on this.”
Meyers asked the candidates several questions he had prepared in advance as well as questions gathered from the audience throughout the evening.
On many of the issues candidates’ opinions varied only a little while others involving topics such as the Lake Powell Pipeline drew out strong opposing responses.
Stallings expressed his steadfast opposition to the pipeline arguing instead for conservation.
“Talk about conservation. Talk about these alternative resources,” Stallings said. “In the very very end it may be the best solution but right now I am not on board. We should talk about conservation first and foremost.”
Randall, however, didn’t pause when asked if she supported the project, immediately voicing her support.
“I do support the pipeline,” Randall said. “We need the water. We can conserve but we cannot grow any further past about 160,000 if we don’t have a new source of water.”
McArthur agreed with both of the candidates, stating he is in support of the project but also believes in conservation.
“I am in favor of the Lake Powell Pipeline,” McArthur said. “I hope we can get the state of Utah to help us with that and the costs. I think having a good reliable second water source is a very good thing. I agree with Marc (Stallings) I think conservation is very important. I think that’s something we need to look into.”
The subsidized remodeling of the Dixie Sunbowl paid for with recreation, arts and parks, or RAP, tax revenue was another issue that garnered varying responses.
While Stallings said he supported the renovation of the Sunbowl when he ran for City Council two years ago, he does not support it this time around.
“I’m not for raising taxes to spend over seven digits,” Stallings said. “I love tradition. I love the Dixie spirit and the Sunbowl is near and dear to a lot of our residents’ hearts but I’m not going to raise taxes to renovate that Sunbowl.”
While some of the issues drew out controversy and much discussion, the candidates all remained civil and respectful to one another’s differing opinions.
In closing, each of the candidates had an opportunity to tell voters why they were the best one for the job.
CORRECTION: We inadvertently reported Thiriot signed the pledge and Stallings had not when in fact, it was reversed – Stallings did sign the pledge and Thiriot did not. The correction was changed at 9:45 a.m. to reflect the correct information.
Voting and election process
The top four candidates who receive the most votes in the Aug. 15 primary will move on to the general election.
Read more: VOTE: Guide for early primary voting
Early voting is underway with voters in some municipalities heading to the polls and others sending in mail-in ballots.
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