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My view: Utah's gubernatorial race is frustrating

FILE "” Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert speaks as he and fellow gubernatorial candidate, Jonathan Johnson debate at Little America Hotel in Salty Lake City Monday, April 11, 2016. Herbert challenged a directive from the Obama administration telling public s
FILE "” Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert speaks as he and fellow gubernatorial candidate, Jonathan Johnson debate at Little America Hotel in Salty Lake City Monday, April 11, 2016. Herbert challenged a directive from the Obama administration telling public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Deseret News

Hurrah for Natalie Gochnour’s saying she is frustrated over the lack of broader policy discussion among gubernatorial candidates! As Natalie notes, time is short and the choice is crucial.

Gochnour’s frustration is universal, and she pleads to all candidates to broaden our focus, but her plea more effectively should be addressed to Gov. Gary Herbert, along with an invitation to openly debate his opponents.

Herbert has only participated in a single debate with his challenger, Jonathan Johnson — one debate only — and this, despite numerous debate invitations he’s let fall to the floor unaccepted.

Many radio listeners know and understand that the governor’s refusal to debate is so longstanding and so absolute, that prior to the State Republican Convention, it moved Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis to debate Johnson instead — just to present some counterpoint.

Those listening in on local radio stations all over the state heard a full airing of a full slate of issues. It was a great platform for everyone — except Gov. Herbert. However, his absence guaranteed a smaller audience.

The governor excused his absence, saying that his candidacy was not yet “official,” though by then he had been, and was raising, a huge war chest during this “unofficial” stage. One has to wonder whether all the planning and reservations for all those billboards that sprung up overnight took place during the “unofficial” stage too. But instead of self-congratulatory billboards, proclaiming himself “A good man. And a Great Governor,” why can’t we get the gist of it ourselves through a reasonable series of debates? Governor, must we all just simply take your word for it?

Gov. Herbert also gave excuses saying he was making time for “governing, not campaigning” and was “busy running the state”. At the same time, he found hours in his schedule to attend and host several high-dollar fundraisers for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and other Republican candidates. Why couldn’t he dedicate those hours to inform Utah voters instead of the political elite?

Incumbents tend to be debate adverse for a variety of reasons, but mostly for control. Debates provide an uncontrolled, unscripted, airing of the broader issues. Debates also demonstrate character, temperament and a wealth of information voters find useful, such as staying level-headed under fire or being quick on one’s feet in handling curveball questions. The one thing they don’t provide is a controlled message environment. That’s why incumbents hate them and voters love them.

Gov. Herbert is no exception to the incumbent rule on debates — he’s not accepted these invitations, and he’s on track to decline more on his way to spending many times more than his challengers in the election cycle.

But what does it say about a candidate’s strategy, that while refusing debates and following a 10 point loss at a state convention, an incumbent hastily calls an all-hands meeting of key lobbyists to raise $1 million for his campaign? Do we think he is planning to bankroll a series of debates or is it more likely that we can expect more big-money-style slick billboards, mailers and robo-calls? You be the judge.

So, yes, Ms. Gochnour, what about those issues? Undeniably, the best way to widen the voters’ field of vision, get things in the open and settled, is to get the governor to the debate dance and let us have the opportunity to judge, rather than sit still for the usual spoon-feeding.

What about it, Mr. Herbert?

Mike Thompson is an attorney who was a former Utah County Republican Party secretary, Orem City Council member and member of the Utah State Legislature from 2001-05.