ST. GEORGE — The two Republican candidates for Washington County Commission squared off at a lunchtime debate Thursday.
Gil Almquist and Allen Davis were the featured speakers at the luncheon sponsored by the Washington County Republican Women. Approximately 100 people were in attendance at the meeting, which was held at the Best Western Abbey Inn.
Almquist and Davis are vying for the commission seat being vacated by Zachary Renstrom, who is not seeking re-election. Renstrom is leaving the three-member county commission at the end of his term this year to take the reins as the next general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District upon the retirement of current manager Ron Thompson.
Almquist is a former St. George City Councilman who ran against current Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox in 2016, losing narrowly in the primary. Almquist and his wife Jill have three grown children and operate a small landscaping business, which he said he will sell if elected so that he can devote himself to the full-time job of county commissioner.
Davis, who resides in Winchester Hills, works as an electrical lineman for St. George city. He and his wife have two teenage children. He is current president of the Winchester Hills Water Company, for which he’d also served as a board member for several years. Davis has also promised to retire from his current job if elected county commissioner.
During Thursday’s informal, half-hour debate, the two candidates took turns speaking on a number of issues and answering questions from the audience.
Lake Powell Pipeline
Several audience questions addressed the Lake Powell Pipeline project, a plan to pipe water from Lake Powell into southwest Utah.
Both candidates expressed support for the project.
“I’m 100 percent behind the Lake Powell Pipeline,” Almquist said. “That may not be very comforting to all of you. Certainly, we have to figure out what it’s going to cost and that’s got to be reasonable, and we’ve got to find people who are going to help pay for it, but I’m not going to be the one who says to the future generations, you can’t come here because we’ve left you high and dry.”
“We’re an island of one (water) source, the Virgin River, and if we have the chance to bring something else to the island from other sources, let’s go get it. It’s a jewel. In the desert, water is candy and we need to have it,” Almquist added.
Davis said his support of the pipeline is contingent on its cost.
“I am not against the pipeline as a general rule,” Davis said. “Utah has water over there and I think that, if it’s cost-effective, we need to go get it. But as a county commissioner, I can’t sign a blank check to find out how much that pipeline’s gonna cost later. I’m too conservative for that. I’ve got to know how much it’s going to affect everyone.”
Davis said his main issue with the pipeline lies in the uncertainties the impact the project will have on taxes and water rates.
“We need to clear a lot of those things up before I could get on board 100 percent with it,” Davis said, later adding, “I’m for the pipeline if they can prove to me it’s good for the majority of the citizens of Washington County.”
During the discussion, Commissioner Cox stood up and asked a pointed question regarding the pipeline’s cost.
After noting the expense involved in conducting environmental studies, Cox asked, “Are you in favor of spending money to find out how much it’s going to cost?”
“As a general rule, yes I am,” Davis replied. “But how much money are you going to spend?”
Almquist likened the pipeline debate to people arguing over a slice of pizza.
“If this is a piece of pizza, and just because somebody else has a finite piece of pizza, I’m not the one who’s going to say, hey, you can’t have your slice, you’re going to have to give up your slice because this person needs it over here,” Almquist said. “The answer is, as it always has been in the West: Get, another pizza! Build another dam in a reservoir. Go get a source of water. It’s Utah’s water. Let’s go get the pizza over there. Yeah, it’ll be expensive, but we’re not going to starve,” he said as the audience applauded.
Both candidates also said they were in favor of the proposed northern corridor, a project that aims to build a five-lane east-west highway from Washington Parkway at Interstate 15’s Exit 13 to the Red Hills Parkway, passing through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
Davis said while some may be concerned with the exact route the road will take, he believes community support for the road is overwhelmingly high.
“I don’t know anybody that’s opposed to it,” he said, adding, “We’ve got traffic issues in Washington County. I think that on a lot of those, they need to work with the individual cities. I don’t know that it’s the county’s – Big Brother county’s – job to ride roughshod over the will of the smaller cities and things like that. But we need to have a master plan that, that connects the individual cities and the unincorporated parts of Washington County.”
Almquist countered Davis’ statement by saying, “It’s all about the smaller communities. That’s all it is about. And cities take care of themselves. Cities need help from the county from time to time. But if you believe the role of government, the only role that county has relative to cities is to try to make them all get along if there’s problems, but they (also) have to provide transportation routes.”
Almquist added: “I’ve walked the entire northern corridor and I have found places where I think it should be tweaked a little bit.”
Among the other issues that were raised and discussed during the debate were the county’s population of wild horses and their management by the Bureau of Land Management, bringing more technology and high-paying jobs to Washington County, the high cost of health care and other problems associated with anticipated future population growth.
After the meeting was over, Davis told St. George News his reasons for seeking office.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t happy with the candidates that were running,” he said, adding, “I think that I can do a better job than they can. I have no special interest or anything like that, and I’m not a career politician.”
Nevertheless, Davis said he’s “always had a little bit of a passion for politics” and said he sees himself as someone who’d provide a rural voice to the commission.
Davis also said that if elected, he’d put past differences aside and be willing work with current commissioners Cox and Victor Iverson.
“My relationship with Victor’s a little bit strained right now, because he’s supporting Gil, you know, and I think that he should have remained neutral.”
In addition, Davis said he didn’t appreciate Renstrom’s introduction of Almquist at last month’s GOP county convention.
“I think that was a terribly bad move on Gil’s part and Zach’s part,” Davis said. “Zach is going to be the new director of the water conservancy district. How is Gil going to reform the conservancy district with the guy that announced them at convention and is supporting him? It’s a little bit of a pickle that he’s in, you know. He’s created himself a conflict already.”
“It’s just one of many things that I don’t really see eye-to-eye with Gil about,” Davis added. “I mean, believe it or not, we, we don’t see eye-to-eye on very much stuff. … I’ve been a city employee for the city of St George for 30 years. I’ve seen Gil in action. I don’t like the way he governs. But the race is not about me and Gil. It’s about the county, you know, and I wanted to keep it on county issues.”
Almquist told St. George News after the meeting that he sees his own background as a former city councilman as a key preparation for the role of county commissioner.
“I always consider myself a fresh face because I’m always learning,” he said, adding that experience shouldn’t be viewed as a detriment in politics.
“I don’t understand why, in everywhere else in life, if you have a good doctor, you stick with them. If you’ve got a good mechanic, you stick with (them) But if you have a somebody who’s running for office, who has a ton of experience, knows the pitfalls, avoids them, and knows also how to get things done, why do we suddenly say they’re worthless?”
“I stress the fact that everything is new,” Almquist added. “I’ve not been a county commissioner before, but I’ve worked on boards. The point is that everything is a new issue, a new thing to work on, and really what’s best for the citizens.”
“To have the backing of knowledge is a positive thing to me,” Almquist said.
The winner of Washington County’s GOP primary election for county commissioner on June 26 – either Almquist or Davis – will go on to face Democratic candidate Robert E. Ford in the November general election.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.