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Governor Herbert Challenges Mike Weinholtz In First Of Two Scheduled Debates

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Whittney Evans
Governor Gary Herbert and Mike Weinholtz at a Utah Taxpayers Association event in May.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his Democratic Challenger Mike Weinholtz faced off Friday afternoon in a debate hosted by the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

In a room full of local government officials from across the state, the candidates were, not surprisingly, asked how they each would defend them from state and federal overreach. Herbert, who is a former county commissioner said local governments have the answers to their own unique problems.

“We ought to be your partner,” Herbert said. “We ought to be joined with you in a collaborative effort. The spirit of cooperation is what’s going to solve the problems.”

Weinholtz said there is plenty of state overreach happening. He chided lawmakers for passing criminal justice reform without sufficient funding and laws that guide billboards and local historic districts. 

“Utah can’t complain about federal overreach as a state if it’s going to be implementing excessive controls over you folks,” Weinholtz said. “It’s hypocrisy.”

Herbert said Utah can do a better job of managing taxpayer dollars and federal lands.

“We are a public lands state and we’ll always be a public lands state,” Herbert said. “There is not a desire to privatize the lands. We have the ability and there was a study done by the University of Utah and Utah State University that said we do have enough resources that come in if we don’t have to share them with the federal government to in fact manage our public lands.”

Weinholtz said he thinks communities fair better when public lands are managed by the federal government. 

“We committed spending $14 million of our taxpayer money on a lawsuit that is absolutely unwinnable,” Weinholtz said. “That’s not only morally bankrupt, but it’s fiscally irresponsible and it’s not the kind of thing that I would do as governor.”

The candidates found common ground on making online purchases subject to sales tax.

Herbert initially declined participate in Friday’s debate due to a scheduling conflict, but later said he could make it work. Weinholtz said the governor succumbed to public pressure to participate. 

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