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Differences are outlined in friendly debate

Huntsman and Matheson set a serious tone

A worker tries to restore audio during the second debate between Jon Huntsman Jr. and Scott Matheson Jr., which was held in Provo Friday.
A worker tries to restore audio during the second debate between Jon Huntsman Jr. and Scott Matheson Jr., which was held in Provo Friday.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. and Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. did try harder during their second gubernatorial debate Friday to differentiate their positions.

Still, the most memorable moment for the audience at the Provo/Orem Chamber of Commerce debate was likely at the beginning, when a glitch in taping by a Brigham Young University television crew forced Huntsman to repeat his opening statement.

The candidates joked about that and other technical difficulties, including a wobbly podium. Huntsman said there was "too much flip-flopping going on" while Matheson suggested it demonstrated "why we need more balance in Utah politics."

The pair quickly became serious, though, when asked about a wide range of issues facing the state including education and the economy. Their biggest difference was over the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the November ballot.

Both candidates said marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman. But Huntsman said he'll vote for the amendment, while Matheson said the proposal's wording creates "a confusing legal situation" that will be costly to resolve.

His concern is over the second part of the amendment, which forbids granting "the same or substantially equivalent legal effect" as marriage to other relationships. Matheson said the constitution should not be changed when there are questions about the proposed language.

He said there was no hurry to make such a change, because Utah law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman. "That's not at issue here," Matheson said. "We really don't have a gun to our head."

Not so, said Huntsman, calling a recent court ruling in Massachusetts permitting gay marriage exactly that. He also criticized what he called activist judges and said other states were going ahead with similar constitutional amendments.

There were differences, too, in what the candidates saw as their top priority if elected.

For Huntsman, an executive in his family's business empire and a former diplomat, it's economic development. Matheson, son of the late Gov. Scott Matheson and the dean of the University of Utah law school, said education is at the top of his list.

Huntsman pointed to his 40-plus page economic development plan and his ability to get into corporate boardrooms around the world to solicit financial help for a variety of state programs, including education.

Matheson said more money needs to be spent on schools. He said he would not drop out of the Bush administration's controversial "No Child Left Behind" program, which brings some $115 million to the state, and accused Huntsman of "backpedaling" on the issue.

They disagreed, too, on school vouchers. Matheson said he was against them because they send the wrong message to parents and educators, while Huntsman said he'd like to try putting "choice in the marketplace," suggesting a needs-based tax credit.

Despite their differences, however, the candidates were friendly toward each other in their second meeting, just as they were during the first of their eight scheduled debates before Election Day.