Utah State Senate Nominees Square Off at SUU

Deliberation broke out at the Utah senate debate as Democratic candidate Jenny Wilson squared off with Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Southern Utah University hosted the Utah Debate Commission on Tuesday night Oct. 9, which attracted students, community members and other politicians.

Wilson and Romney are running for the Utah State Senate seat currently held by Senator Orrin Hatch, who is not seeking re-election.

Wilson is currently serving her second six-year term on the Salt Lake City Council. Her main focus on the council has included numerous policy initiatives, including ethics reform, protecting Utah’s trails and waterways, the opioid crisis, and reforming criminal justice.

Romney was the 2012 Republican nominee for the President of the United States. Prior to his presidential campaign, Romney served as Governor for the state of Massachusetts. He is also the co-founder of Bain Capital and turnaround CEO of Bain & Company.

Wilson and Romney previously worked together as committee members for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

“Jenny Wilson and I have known each other for a long time,” Romney said. “We worked together at the Olympic. We are friends, our families are friends. Utah would not be in bad shape with either one of us representing our fine state.”

Debate questions came from a panel of judges, students, social media viewers and community members. Each candidate was given one minute to respond to a question, with a potential 30 second rebuttal of their opponent’s response.  

Wilson focused on her ability to fully represent the state.

“I think to change Washington, we’re going to need a new generation of leaders,” Wilson said. “Leaders who are from their communities, who know the people, who have worked to solve local problems. That is what I represent.”

Romney’s focus was on giving more power and authority to the states and allowing them to make decisions on their own.

“I frankly believe that one of the best things we can do to finally rein in the excessive spending in Washington is to take a lot of the programs that are in Washington and eliminate them or send them back to the state,” Romney said. “I’m convinced states know better how to care for their people than the federal government does.”

Wilson rebuked Romney multiple times for statements made prior to the event.

While discussing gun control, Wilson brought up a press release produced by Romney’s office while he served as Governor of Massachusetts, which she believed contradicted his current stance.  

“I guess we are going to play multiple-choice Mitt,” Wilson said. “You said one thing when you went to run for governor, another thing as governor, then you went off to run for president, and now you’re seeking to serve us in the U.S. Senate from Utah. I don’t know if it is A, B, C, or D, but I see that it does change.”

Romney responded that he still holds the same position of not favoring new federal gun regulations he always has.

The debate continued to topics including health care, taxes and immigration “Dreamers”; including those who live in Utah.

SUU students in attendance expressed admiration for the event’s tone.

“I think both candidates were focused on combining parties and really making sure it wasn’t polarized, and I thought that was nice, especially here in Utah,” Ashlyn Jack, a sophomore studying biology, said. “We need to be unifying instead of dividing by political party.”

The event was put together by Southern Utah University, the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service, the Utah Debate Commission and many other SUU Clubs.

“Through connections, we were able to get students involved, the community involved,” Cami Mathews, the student director at the Leavitt Center, said. “A big thank you to the Presidential Ambassadors, SUUSA, and any political science student and the department. I was so pleased to have a great crowd and so much support.”

You can view the full Utah Senate Debate here. You can also find the candidate profiles below.

Jenny Wilson
Mitt Romney

Story by: Easton Bowring
Photos by: Easton Bowring