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The Republican candidates for the Salt Lake County Commission have been running a good cop/bad cop primary.

Pearl Meibos has been mercilessly beating up on Randy Horiuchi, accusing him of selling out the citizenry to powerful land developers and political cronies.In her view, the commissioner in dark glasses is an influence peddler/wheeler dealer who should be thrown out of office, if not in jail.

Gene Whitmore has been characterizing Horiuchi as a likable if misguided politician and blames the county's woes on high taxes and government inefficiency.

According to Whitmore, the Democratic commissioner with the sense of humor simply needs to be replaced by a better-qualified Republican who takes the citizens' concerns more seriously.

Though Horiuchi has publicly shown no signs of cracking under either approach, some of his campaigners have privately said they would rather have Whitmore as their opponent because he would be less negative than Meibos.

Horiuchi said they are mistaken. Whitmore would be the more formidable candidate, according to Horiuchi, because he is a "conservative, clean-cut, competent guy," while Meibos is a "one-issue candidate" who "makes me look normal."

A former state Democratic Party chairman and longtime political activist, Horiuchi said, "I've never experienced anything like the kind of personal attacks and negative campaigning that's come from Pearl Meibos the past three weeks. It's been incredible."

Whitmore, a patient account representative at Primary Children's Medical Center, entered the race in April with the promise to focus on the issue of "how government responds to the people" rather than on personalities.

On the campaign trail, he talks mostly about budget management, transportation and service-delivery issues. He brings his present and prospective opponents into it only when comparing his qualifications and philosophies to theirs or when asked.

"Our biggest challenge - no matter who gets elected - is to maintain control of the budget. We have to learn to live within the budget. People are paying too much in taxes already," Whitmore said. On that point, he adds that, unlike Horiuchi, he would have voted against the property-tax increase three years ago.

Meibos, who operates a business with her husband, got interested in politics while fighting the Redevelopment Agency-supported expansion of a shopping center in the historic Union Fort area. Her late grandfather's home, which survived, was among those threatened by the project.

"As I got involved in that, I began to see what was really happening in county government. De-ci-sions were not being made on the basis of public interest; they were made on the basis of self-interest," Meibos said.

According to Meibos, the fault lies in "people like Randy Horiuchi" who wield too much personal power and in the government structure that gives them that power.

"My first priority would be to begin working on legislative reform to restructure county government. It will take years to accomplish, so it's important to start now," Meibos said.

She proposes a county council-administrator form of government, with representation from each of the geographic areas along with the mayors of all the cities. Planning would be handled at the local community level to give residents control of their neighborhoods, she added.

Whitmore dislikes the council-administrator plan, arguing that it would add another layer of bureaucracy to county government. The solution to the county's problems lies not in more government but in the election of knowledgeable and effective commissioners, he said.

A University of Utah graduate with degrees in political science and public administration, Whit-more said he is better qualified for the job than Meibos. He says he also has a better working knowledge of the political process because of his leadership roles in the county Republican Party.

"A lot of what happens in government will be unfamiliar to Pearl. She only got into this as a personal crusade against Randy Horiuchi," Whitmore said. "I can hit the ground running."

Meibos, who is also a U. graduate, said she has a better knowledge of the issues, more direct experience with government and "I stand a better chance of beating Randy Horiuchi."

And she said if it sounds as if she's campaigning more against Horiuchi than Whitmore, it's because Whitmore "hasn't given me anything to respond to."

Both Meibos and Whitmore are opposed to the proposed light-rail transit system. They said other options haven't been adequately explored. And they both assail the county's handling of the Salt Palace project, which is expected to cost at least $15 million more than expected.

Neither of the Republicans expects to raise as much campaign money as Horiuchi - who is projecting a war chest of more than $200,000 - but believe they will have enough to get their message across to voters and win.

In recent days, Horiuchi has made an issue of Meibos' campaign finances, which include a $25,000 contribution from land developer Tom Lloyd. The commissioner said it's ironic that a candidate who accuses him of being "cozy" with developers owes 80 percent of her campaign contributions to a developer.

Meibos said Lloyd is her campaign manager and friend and the contribution will be repaid if possible. She also said no strings are attached to the money.

Whitmore said that if he wins the primary, he expects to spend about $50,000 through the rest of the campaign.


Additional Information

Primary previews

During the 10 days preceding the primary election June 28, the Deseret News is publishing a series of articles on candidates and the issues they are discussing. In coming days you'll see the following stories:

Sunday: 3rd Congressional District U.S. Senate

Monday: Alpine School Board (Utah County edition)

Davis School Board (Davis edition) Jordan School Board and Tooele County (Metro edition)