What do voters stand to gain or lose in Utah’s Senate 29 Republican primary race?

L=R: Senate 29 challenger Chad Bennionm Incumbent Sen. Don Ipson, location and date of photos not specified | Photo courtesy of the respective candidates' campaigns, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah’s Senate District 29 is up for grabs this year with two Republicans facing off in the June primary. Incumbent Sen. Don Ipson is hoping for a third term in the senate while challenger Chad Bennion seeks to unseat him.

In this file photo, nearly 600 delegates of the Washington County Republican Party gathered at Hurricane High School for the party’s nominating convention, Hurricane, Utah, March 23, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Bennion and Ipson came out of the Washington County Republican Party’s March convention with neither getting the needed 70% of the delegate vote required to secure the party’s nomination. Instead, Bennion came away with 58% of the vote, while Ipson took 42%.

Approaching 16 years in the Utah Legislature — first as a member of the House then the Senate — Ipson touts his experience and position as the vice chair of the Senate’s executive appropriations committee and the benefit that has been for Washington County over the years.

Bennion — who originally served in the Utah House representing the Murray area between 1999 and 2004 — says he will do a better job of representing the people of Washington County and fighting for what’s important to them.

The primary election is set for June 25 with ballots being mailed to voters starting Tuesday, June 4.

What follows are a handful of questions St. George News asked the Senate 29 candidates.

What is your top priority for the 2024 legislative session?

“Having been up there, I think the most important thing you need to do is represent your constituents,” Bennion said. “One of the main reasons I’m running is because many people feel that they’re not being heard … Many people just don’t feel like they’re being represented how they want given that this is arguably the most Republican and most conservative district in the entire state of Utah.”

This file photo shows Senate District 29 candidate Chad Bennion flanked by a small army of supporters at the Washington County Republican nominating convention where Bennion gave a short speech to delegates, Hurricane, Utah, March 23, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Examples Bennion gave of people saying they’ve felt ignored by their current senator and other legislators concern the name change of Dixie State University to Utah Tech University, and the passing of a 2023 bill granting health insurance to the children of illegal migrants.

Bennion said he also plans to hold local town hall meetings focused on matters and bills being discussed in the Legislature while it is session in order to better gauge his constituents concerns toward the issues.

Ipson said top priorities for next legislative session will likely be carryovers from prior years, such as affordable housing, homelessness, having enough water for growth, funding education and energy policy.

“Power energy is a big deal,” he said. “The federal government’s working hard to take our coal plants offline. We’ve got to do everything we can to keep those working. We have clean coal and clean energy from it. And you’ve got to work hard to maintain that too.”

Concerning any particular policy, Ipson said he wants to support the priorities set by the senate caucus and that the issues he listed were all important to him.

Ipson placed a little more emphasis on addressing homelessness and mentioned how the Switchpoint Community Resource Center in St. George has become a model for the state and beyond in addressing the issue.

What do Washington County voters stand to gain or loss if you are elected?

“What they stand to gain with me getting in is someone who will represent them, who will fight on the issues that are important to them,” Bennion said. “Whether it’s the name of a storied and historic university, whether it’s making certain we don’t use tax dollars to provide benefits to illegal immigrants, or whether it’s giving billions of dollars to tax benefits in the form of corporate welfare in order to build stadiums in Utah.”

As a former legislator, Bennion said he is well acquainted with how the legislative process works as he once served as vice chair of the House Rules Committee and sat on the House Appropriations Committee. This prior experience will aid him in being “a big fighter” for Southern Utah issues, he said.

“I bring a perspective of someone who’s been there and is more conservative than the incumbent on the issues that are important to the residents of Washington County,” Bennion said.

In this file photo, State Sen. Don Ipson (R-St. George) speaks during a panel discussion at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, March 26, 2024 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Being in a legislative leadership position as the current vice chair of the Senate executive appropriation committee provides a great benefit for Southern Utah, Ipson said. Together with Sen. Evan Vickers of Cedar City, who also sits on the committee, they “work together to bring the things that happen and are needed in southern Utah.”

In his current position, Ipson said he has been able to get state funding for Southern Utah projects like the air traffic control tower for the St. George Regional Airport, the remodel of the former Cox Performing Arts Center on the Utah Tech campus, the Cove Reservoir project in Kane County, and the stationing of one of the state’s public safety helicopters locally.

Ipson said he is particularly happy about getting the helicopter to Southern Utah.

“That was that was a product of my energy and my determination in appropriations to get one of those helicopters,” he said. “We got one of them brought here through the help of the city of St. George donating a hangar so that’s where it wound up being domiciled. There’s been a lot of lives saved from that.”

If someone else takes his place in the senate, Southern Utah loses the advantages and relationships he has built during his time in office, Ipson said.

“It’ll take them a long time to get there,” he said. “So if I have another four years, I think there’s some things that I’d like to do to help us be in place with the things that we need.”

State income tax and other taxes

In this file photo, Senate 29 candidate Chad Bennion speaks to St. George News about going into a primary against incumbent Sen. Don Ipson following the conclusion of the Washington County Republican Party’s nominating convention, Hurricane, Utah, March 23, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Earlier this year Gov. Spencer Cox spoke about getting rid of Utah’s income tax with a poll coming out soon after showing a majority of Utahns also support the idea. However, both Bennion and Ipson were not so quick to jump on the idea as the state’s income tax is used to fund public education. Moreover, if the tax were removed, other taxes might need to increase to make up the losses.

“If we were going to eliminate income tax, well, we’ve got to have some mechanisms, some way to fund education,” Bennion said. “And that’s a huge part of the budget.”

Ipson said he doesn’t like taxing productivity, which is what income tax does, but also didn’t think the idea of a 10% or higher sales tax to make up for it made sense either.

“I don’t know,” Ipson said. “I think we’ve done a good job of addressing taxes in Utah … In the last three years, we reduced taxes by $1.3 billion and we reduced (state) Social Security tax to where the first $90,000 of Social Security income is not taxed.”

If there is a way to end the state income tax, Ipson said it’ll likely be done “the Utah way,” will all sides coming together.

“We’re not just the best managed state in the nation because we’re upside down and what we’re doing and the decisions we make here, particularly at the legislative level,” he said. “I think the Legislature is to be commended for the work they’ve done in the past and I think we’ll continue.”

This photo photo shows L-R: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and state Sen. Don Ipson listen to SkyWest Airlines SFO Robert Simmons detail how a control tower for the airport would benefit the St. George Region Airport and local SkyWest operations, St. George, Utah, Jan. 11, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

While a way to find an income tax alternative may be found in the future, Bennion said he would like to see the state set up education funds that could replace federal funding that “comes with strings attached.”

For example, in order to gain access to federal grants, the government potentially makes it a requirement to allow transgender girls to be able to compete in high school girls sporting events. Having monies set up by the state that could replace the federal funds in such cases would be one way to stay independent of unwanted federal decrees, Bennion said.

“I don’t favor boys being in girls sports,” he said. “I’m glad the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto on that, but that doesn’t mean the issue is completely settled because in order to get funding for different things with education, they (the federal government) may be requiring that you acknowledge and allow that.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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