By Kyle Thompson
Candidates involved in the races for three Utah legislative districts met to debate at the American Fork Senior Citizens’ Center Thursday evening, Oct. 26.
The candidates are seeking seats in Utah’s 56th, 57th, and 58th house districts.
Questions for the nine candidates were provided by an audience of about 40 voters.
Much of the night’s discussion centered on local public education.
Fifty-sixth district incumbent Republican David Cox said smaller schools are key to academic and social success for students.
Smaller schools also reduce traffic and increase open space in housing developments, Cox said.
Fifty-seventh district Republican candidate Jim Ferrin said he is concerned that there will be 100,000 more children in Utah schools in 10 years than there are now.
Most of the candidates agreed education is a major priority and Utah public schools are under-funded.
However, 56th district Independent candidate Shiela Heindel said she would prefer more money not to be spent on education.
“I am sorry, education is a social program,” Heindel said.
The Independent Party does not advocate government spending on social programs, Heindel said.
Fifty-sixth district Libertarian candidate Dwight Steffner said he is not for raising school funding because he believes taxes are already too high.
The issues of transportation and growth were also debated.
“One of the downsides of growth is that we have to move people,” said 56th district Democratic candidate Wayne Carlton.
Carlton said mass transit, especially the Utah Transit Authority’s TRAX program, needs to be utilized for that to happen.
Fifty-eighth district Democratic candidate Greg Duerden agreed.
“The biggest way to improve roads is to get cars off of them. The best way to do that is mass transit,” Duerden said.
Some discussion was centered on Utah’s tendency to vote Republican.
“I am not gay, I am not liberal, and I am not an abortionist. I am a Democrat, and I am moderate,” said 57th district candidate Gary Tassainer.
Tassainer, the former mayor of Payson, Utah County, said conservative voters concerns about Democrats can be frustrating.
Steffner said he almost did not attend the debate because minor party candidates were not included in the final presidential debate.
“People in Utah may not want new ideas, but the young people in this country sure do,” Steffner said.