Southern Utah University hosted a debate on Wednesday, Oct. 5, for the candidates of Utah’s November general election.
Members of the Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service hosted the event from 5-8 p.m. A meet-and-greet was scheduled for 5:30 p.m., and the debates themselves started starting at 6 p.m.
The candidates involved in the debate are running for school board seats four and five, as well as Utah State Senate and Utah State House positions.
The event began with a solo debate from Stephanie Hill, a candidate for Iron County School District’s fourth school board seat. Hill was unopposed in the debate, as her fellow candidates could not attend the event.
Hill discussed the importance of meeting the key issues plaguing Iron County before they spiral out of control, and she singled out literacy as the main issue.
“The single factor that bridges the socioeconomic gap is literacy,” Hill said. “We only have 45% of our kids who are now in fifth grade reading at grade level. If you don’t meet a child where they start to break down with regard to literacy, they’ll never read.”
The next debate featured Tiffiney Christiansen and Billy Davis, two of the candidates for the fifth school board seat in Iron County.
Many of the topics covered controversial issues involving education within the United States and Utah, specifically. When it came to H.B. 234, a bill that would require teachers to submit all learning materials and syllabi for each day of instruction, Davis supported the idea but believed that the bill should be reworked.
“I understand that it’s a little burdensome, I understand that it’s a little bit overkill [and] maybe we could dial it back some,” Davis said. “I know why that bill is there, and I understand the importance of it, so I would hate to say that it’s something I’m against.”
Meanwhile, Christiansen disagreed and said that it was an unnecessary bill that would negatively impact teacher retention.
“This is a bill I would absolutely not support because my main priority is to attract and maintain great teachers,” Christiansen said. “If you’re going to micromanage curriculum, it’s a great way to drive the joy out of teaching.”
The third debate of the night involved Patricia Bradford, Barry Short and Evan Vickers, the candidates for Utah State Senate District 28. One of the most divisive topics in the debate was how to fix Utah’s inflation rate, which is the second highest in the country.
Bradford of the United Utah Party mentioned that one of her solutions to this problem was to focus on the increasing price of housing in the state.
“Housing is something that is one of the biggest pieces of inflation that’s hurting families,” Bradford said. “Rent has gone up a considerable amount, and house prices have gone up a considerable amount.”
Short, the current chair for the Utah Libertarian Party, has been working towards limiting taxation to help minimize Utah’s current surplus.
“On the short-term here in the state, there are things we can do, and most of it has to do with looking at taxation and ways to reduce our tax burden,” Short said. “We have a billion-dollar surplus in Utah. That means we collected a billion dollars from the citizens of this state that the state did not need in order to pay its bills. There are lots of ways to put more money back into your pocket without taking away the services, without taking away the absolutely necessary things that we all depend on.”
Sen. Vickers, the incumbent for the Senate seat and member of the Utah Republican Party, placed the blame for rising inflation rates on the federal government.
“Let’s face it, inflation is because we’re spending too much money,” Vickers said. “The federal government is spending too much money. The solution to stopping that inflation is curtailing that spending so that there’s not all this pressure driving the supply chain and everything else.”
The fourth and final debate of the night featured Utah House candidates Rex Shipp, Piper Manesse and Dallas Guymon.
One of the many issues discussed was how to help rural economies and communities like Cedar City.
Shipp, the incumbent for the House seat and a member of the Utah Republican Party, mentioned his involvement in the rural caucus that helps southern Utah and its surrounding areas with rural populations.
“One of the things that I’ve been involved in since the day I was elected is the rural caucus,” Shipp said. “We have the rural caucus every Friday at the state legislature where we discuss important issues that [have] to do with rural Utah. The rural legislatures are in the minority, so we need to get help from our people on the Wasatch Front to help us out.”
Manesse, a member of the United Utah Party, specified that agriculture in southern Utah, as well as in other rural areas, needs to be protected despite the growing water crisis.
“Rural Utah has a lot to do with agriculture,” Manesse said. “I think that agriculture is a blessing that we have down here; it’s a powerful force and a generational thing. It was mentioned earlier that agriculture is probably 75-80% of the state’s water. Even with that, though, I think we need to protect our agricultural background and our culture and heritage.”
Guymon, a member of the Utah Democratic Party, claimed that the best way to help communities such as Cedar City was to invest in them.
“During COVID, I know that a lot of people in rural Utah struggled with care and access,” Guymon said. “Water is an issue, mental health is an issue and healthcare, in general, is an issue. So, I think we need to just invest more into these communities because they’re the ones who get forgotten.”
Every candidate that took part in the event will be included in the upcoming general election on Nov. 8. To view more information on the election or to register to vote, visit vote.utah.gov.
Story and photos by: Luke McKenzie