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Everything you need to know to make sense of Utah’s gubernatorial debate

Gov. Gary Herbert and his Democratic Party challenger, Mike Weinholtz, debated each other in September 2016 in Logan at an event sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission. Each candidate was given a question from the moderator, a member of the local press, and from Utah State University students, and was given a chance to rebut his opponent’s answer . In general, it was a substantive, policy-centered affair, but debate participants are only given a couple of minutes to flesh out answers to what are often complex issues, so we thought it would be helpful to provide additional context and resources to better understand the differences in some of the answers given by Gov. Herbert and Mike Weinholtz.

The first question of the debate was how to improve education in Utah. The candidates argued about funding levels, with Gov. Herbert pointing out that during his administration the state has added $1.8 billion to education spending, while Weinholtz said that’s just not enough and education funding still isn’t back to pre-recession levels.

However, as you read this UCN post and its accompanying Dig Deeper section, it becomes clear that while funding debates in Utah will never end, the best way to improve education is by shifting decision-making power from upper-level bureaucrats to individual schools and parents. Right now district and state officials – and worse, federal bureaucrats – create mandates for how local schools and teachers educate our children. The quickest and best way to fix our education system in Utah is for parents and local school leaders to make those decisions.

One topic brought up repeatedly by questioners and by the candidates themselves was Medicaid expansion. Weinholtz argued for full expansion. Gov. Herbert said Utahns don’t want to expand Obamacare – but there is a need to do something. The governor’s plan to expand Medicaid was called Healthy Utah, which would have given people subsidies to purchase private insurance. Check out this post for a discussion of the problems that proposal raised, as well as here, here and here for UCN posts about health insurance and government health scheme costs.

Ultimately, a compromise expansion was passed in 2016, which extended Medicaid coverage to about 10,000 more people, mostly the chronically homeless or those in need of mental or substance abuse treatment. However, even though Utah passed an expansion, it still needs to get federal government permission to implement it.

A student at Utah State University asked the candidates if Utah should raise the minimum wage. Utah Citizen Network has a couple of posts about minimum wage laws, including this one about how what happened to American Samoa the last time we raised the minimum wage, demonstrating its devastating effects on jobs. And be sure to check out this analysis of who makes minimum wage in America.

Finally, near the end of the debate were questions concerning the best entity to manage public lands – Utah or the federal government – and whether our air quality is getting worse and what to do about it.

UCN has done a deep dive into whether Utah is capable of managing public lands (Yes!). The federal government owns 64 percent of the land in Utah, and a study conducted by economists from the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University found that when federal control is concentrated it leads to a drag on local economies and poor forest management, leading to more numerous and more severe wildfires.

Utah’s air quality has been a hot topic for a number of years, with a 2013 survey finding 78 percent of Utahns believe our air is worse today than it was 20 years ago (it’s not). Read through this UCN article to find the facts behind the sound bites, how our air has improved, what’s making the air dirty, and what proposals there are for further improvement.

As the two candidates duke it out for the chance to be our governor, spend some time at Utah Citizen Network to brush up on the issues and continue your trek to becoming the Governor of Freedomville.

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