St. George mayoral debate draws contrast between candidates

(L-R:) Debate moderator Andy Griffin, Councilman Jimmie Hughes and Mayor Michelle Randall, St. Georg, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — While the candidates for city of St. George mayor align on most issues facing the city, they told the audience at the first Southern Utah Debate Commission debate that they differ in one respect. That is, the way they would approach the job.

Jimmie Hughes (right), speaks with voters before Tuesday’s debate, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Councilman Jimmie Hughes said he’s a busy man and believes being mayor should be a part-time position.

“I’m not in favor of a full-time mayor,” he told the audience. “This isn’t a job. I’m a citizen servant – not a politician. I work for you.”

Incumbent Mayor Michele Randall conceded to the audience that she and Hughes don’t differ much in their politics, but she will approach the role of mayor differently than Hughes.

“I have room in my schedule to do this full time,” she said. “Still, I’ve seen cities up north, and I don’t want us to become them.”

Mayor Michele Randall (center), speaks with voters, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

As debate moderator Andy Griffin posed questions about water, growth and the cost of living, among others, the candidates’ other differences, though subtle, came into focus.

Of water, Randall said conservation is key.

“If we’re going to make it without the Lake Powell pipeline, we need to conserve,” she said. “And we need more storage.”

Hughes agreed, then offered his own ideas on ways to conserve water, as well as a situation he’d like to avoid.

“On-demand, hot water heaters can save up to 10,000 gallons of water per household each year,” he said. “But I don’t think we need to be a Phoenix, or a Tucson, Arizona, where they’ve outlawed ornamental lawns.”

But, he continued, when people use water, they aren’t necessarily wasting it. Randall added that she didn’t want current residents to get rid of their lawns, but she does want new developments to be conservative.

Voters fill the Eccles Arts Building to see the first Southern Utah Debate Commission’s debates, St. George, Utah, Oct. 12, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

When asked what the mayor can do to improve traffic and crime, Randall noted that there were 700 vacancies in law enforcement across the state.

“I get it,” she said. “In this environment where they aren’t respected, people don’t want to do that job.”

To ease traffic, Randall said that neighborhood commercial development will be key to keeping more cars off the road.

Hughes said that he backs the blue, drawing enthusiastic cheers from the audience.

“We have the best of the best,” he said.

Both Hughes and Randall feel strongly that the Dixie name shouldn’t be removed from any institutions, roads, landmarks or anything else.

I’m a Dixie kid,” Hughes said. “They think we have to change our name, but I disagree.”

Randall said she saw trouble brewing when country music trio The Dixie Chicks dropped their name as protests erupted around the U.S. after George Floyd was murdered.

“I said, ‘Watch out, it’s coming,'” Randall said. “But we need to tell the story of the 309 families who came here in the beginning. The division needs to stop.”

File photo of Jimmie Hughes, Gregg McArthur, Mayor Michele Randall and Bryan Smethurst listen intently to a presentation on water and energy at the St. George City Council meeting in St. George, Utah, April 8, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

About the rising cost of living in St. George, Hughes said that he can’t control the free market, “which ebbs and flows.” Randall, in turn, said that she’s working with the Housing Action Coalition to find solutions to the myriad challenges residents are facing.

When asked about the Ironman World Championship, Hughes stressed the importance of having honest conversations about what it means for local residents and businesses.

“The boost in income is good for some,” he said. “But we need to talk about some of the others. I know a business owner who loses 60% of their business because of that event.”

Randall took the opportunity to diverge from Hughes.

“The world championship has never happened anywhere other than Kona, Hawaii,” she said. “They narrowed it down to St. George and Chattanooga, Tennessee. And we got it!”

“That’s inspiring,” she added after the audience’s applause quieted. “It puts people out for half a day; we can deal.”

For all of St. George News’ coverage of 2021 municipal elections, click here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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