ST. GEORGE — Before he was a candidate for governor of Utah, Chris Peterson was born and raised in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Valley City. However, he said he remembers coming down to Southern Utah often with his family on summer trips to the Tuschar Mountains in Beaver County and water skiing on Lake Powell.
“I have wonderful memories from when I was younger,” Peterson sold St. George News in a Zoom conversation.
With the mention of his Lake Powell memories, the conversation turned to the proposed controversial Lake Powell Pipeline.
Peterson said he sees the need for such a pipeline and supports it – with some caveats.
“On the one hand, I recognize Washington County needs a reliable source of water. It is a growing community that is expanding, and so it makes sense to have infrastructure improvements to make sure that there’s a reliable source of water,” Peterson said.
However, he cited concerns about the budget for the pipeline as well as ongoing litigation with other states and cities that have interests in the Colorado River Basin water.
“I’m worried about cost overruns and the impact in neighboring communities. But I do believe that we need to proceed with caution as our tax dollars are concerned.”
As a Democrat running for governor in a state where no Democrat has won since Scott Matheson finished his second term more than 35 years ago, many would say Peterson’s aim to be the next governor of the Beehive State is a pipe dream. And the polls reflect that, as a Utah Debate Commission poll on Sept. 15 had Peterson trailing Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox 55% to 19.6%.
Despite the odds, Peterson said it is not impossible for him to win, as he said Utah is not skewed as far to the right as some may think.
“Utah is much more moderate and middle of the road than its politicians are,” Peterson said. “We’ve seen Utahns vote for Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana only to see the state Legislature not enact critical portions of those ballot measures.”
If Peterson were to win the governorship, it would be his first elected office, though he is not a stranger to government. The professor of business law at the University of Utah was a key finance official in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was formed during the President Barack Obama administration. Peterson said his role was the culmination of his expertise in consumer protection.
“I’ve spent my career fighting for the little guy,” Peterson said.
The fifth-generation Utahn also has roots in Utah politics. He is a descendant of John Taylor, who was the third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was Utah’s Speaker of the House from 1857-1876. Taylor was also one of the 13 men tasked by Brigham Young with forming what is now Zions Bank in 1873.
See Peterson’s answers to additional questions from St. George News below. Cox, Peterson’s opponent, previously answered questions for St. George News in July.
What is the advantage of having you as the next governor of Utah?
While Cox has held several political offices – from city council to lieutenant governor – Peterson has taken the political outsider banner and says his lack of political experience is an advantage.
“As an outsider, I can work for ordinary families in our state. I’m not tied to market insiders or working for the wealthy who have made a campaign that’s geared towards protecting their special interests,” he said. “ I’ll be focused on ordinary workers across the state trying to look good-paying jobs increased access to affordable health care, reasonable consumer protections to make sure that ordinary Utahns get a fair deal in the marketplace.”
How might have you responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic if you were governor currently? And how might you address it if it continues to be a concern into 2021?
Peterson said he doesn’t want to run a negative campaign against Cox but said his opponent has “fallen short” as far as being a key leader of Gov. Gary Herbert’s current COVID-19 task force.
And the biggest difference Peterson said he has with Cox is he would have made face-coverings mandatory in the state.
“One thing that is clearly different is I believe masks are critical. We should have a statewide masks mandate. This would not only keep us safe but save our small businesses,” Peterson said. “What is happening is that people don’t feel safe going to restaurants or to stores, and there are good reasons for people to not to feel safe because we already have had more people die of this than died from all the traffic accidents in the state in the last year.”
Peterson said it is not only the deaths he is concerned about but the long-term health of those who have survived having the virus, as he said many of the “long-haulers” are still having health issues months after being considered “recovered,” and it is not clear what those long-term ramifications are.
“It’s entirely appropriate for people to be concerned about this disease, and frankly, I just do not believe that we have done everything that we can to keep people safe,” he said, adding that if the pandemic continued into his time in office, he would put an emphasis on increasing testing and contact tracing.
Updated 2:30 p.m., Oct. 25: Peterson’s pioneer relative corrected.
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