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9 hopefuls tackle hot issues in Dixie

Town meeting topics range from parental choice to illegal aliens

SHARE 9 hopefuls tackle hot issues in Dixie

ST. GEORGE — Gov. Olene Walker and her eight GOP challengers squared off Friday at a town meeting that touched on a variety of hot-button topics — from parental choice to illegal aliens.

Several hundred people showed up to plow through campaign literature and snag a few political freebees at the gathering on the Dixie State College campus.

The nine candidates squared off in a locally televised debate that featured questions from the audience. Attending were Walker, Gary Benson, Jim Hansen, Parley Hellewell, Gary Herbert, Jon Huntsman Jr., Nolan Karras, Fred Lampropoulos and Marty Stephens.

The governor's recent veto of HB115, which would have provided tax dollars to parents of disabled children to attend private schools, generated a significant

amount of attention.

One man's question to Walker implied that her decision to veto the legislation was influenced by the powerful Utah Education Association.

"They had zero effect. I didn't discuss it with them whatsoever," said Walker, adding that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's opinion on the matter was at the root of her decision. "He had constitutional questions. That was enough for me."

Retiring House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, said he would have supported HB115 and does not believe there are any constitutional complications to the bill.

Other issues addressed by the candidates included an intrusive federal government, rising taxes, funding public education and child protection cases.

All of the candidates agreed Utah's next governor must be able to work with the federal government, protect the state's interests and defend constitutional rights of the individual. Education is underfunded, the group agreed, and parental choice in schooling is important.

The division between candidates came when it got down to funding those choices.

"There's a lot of waste in government. I would institute a hiring freeze until there was a 20 percent reduction in staff and budget, in every agency," said Utah County political unknown Gary Benson, who said he is a former university professor and city personnel director. "If we do that, there would be enough to fund education."

Nolan Karras, chairman of the State Board of Regents, said Utah has come to the limit of what it can pay into education. According to Salt Lake businessman Fred Lampropoulos, education is not properly aligned and needs an overhaul.

Salt Lake businessman Jon Huntsman Jr., favors driving education decisions down to the lowest possible level in order to help trim bureaucracy.

Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert, who is campaigning as "a nice guy," said Utah would be better off if a new governor were elected.

"That's one of the blessings of an election, that there can be a change of the guard," he said. "That brings in new vision and perspective."

Creating new jobs, saving Hill Air Force Base, and kicking government off the backs of small business owners are top priorities, said former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen..

State Sen. Parley Hellewell drew a few murmurs when he said he supported jailing illegal aliens who return to the United States after being arrested and deported.

E-mail: nperkins@infowest.com