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Guv hopefuls woo teachers

Huntsman visits though UEA backs Matheson

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Educators register at the UEA convention in Salt Lake City Thursday. The convention continues today.

Educators register at the UEA convention in Salt Lake City Thursday. The convention continues today.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Gubernatorial hopefuls Scott Matheson Jr. and Jon Huntsman Jr. — not a sub, as Huntsman once planned — Thursday talked about improving schools at the Utah Education Association's annual convention.

Republican Huntsman had told the 18,000-member teachers union he would send a stand-in to the candidates forum because the UEA "pretty strongly came out and endorsed our opponent," campaign manager Jason Chaffetz told the Deseret Morning News last week.

"Why take the time and effort in the waning days of the campaign to talk to people who've already decided what they're going to do?"

Hours later, Chaffetz notified the newspaper Huntsman would attend after all.

"Campaigns are like that, particularly in the last two weeks," Chaffetz said. "There are hundreds more events than you can possibly attend. We know we've got a great message for educators. Even though they've endorsed the other camp, he wants to go."

The UEA recommends candidates representing its stands, then invites them to meet teachers at the convention.

This year, the union endorsed Democrat Matheson, proclaimed as the "education governor" in campaign ads.

Huntsman also touts education plans but supports a limited, means-tested tuition tax credit — a concept the union opposes.

"We may not agree on everything, but I guarantee we agree on 90 percent of the issues out there," Huntsman told some 800 teachers Thursday.

He also told them "how dangerous" he is: His children attend public schools; his grandfather was a principal; he wants to grow Utah's economy to give more money to public schools; his family sponsors annual $10,000 educator awards; he wants better teacher pay.

"I'm here because I want to be a friend and I want to express appreciation for the 25,000 men and women who call themselves teachers in this state," Huntsman said before rushing to another engagement. "I don't think we ever make an expenditure as valuable as public education."

Matheson agreed with the sentiment but said he would elevate education as a way to grow the economy, not vice versa.

"It's one thing to market the state (and draw new businesses). But you've got to have the product to market, and the product is education," said Matheson, who took questions from teachers.

He told teachers he wants to reduce class size and give them a voice in improving public schools. He also eschews tuition tax credits and supports tax reform and streamlining state budgets to give more money to schools.

"If (education) is our top priority, let's put our money where our mouths are," Matheson said.

The UEA convention, titled "Great Public Schools for Utah's Children," continues today. It includes 53 workshops, vendors, speakers and political discussions.

Oklahoma Observer editor and humorist "Frosty" Troy opened the event with an irreverent speech that brought teachers to their feet. The conference also features National Education Association Vice President Dennis Van Roekel, a "Superstars in Education" banquet and a new-teacher workshop.

UEA President Pat Rusk said morning workshops were overflowing. The opening session also was packed — something not seen in several years.

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com