The candidates for governor faced off Wednesday in their third and final debate, discussing important issues to Utah with the economy and education underscoring almost every issue.
The debate, the only one of the three to be televised, was held on the University of Utah campus Thursday morning and aired later that evening. Questions for the candidates came from a studio audience made up of community members and was moderated by KUED’s Ken Verdoia.
Gov. Gary Herbert opened the debate by reminding voters of the successes his administration has achieved. Democratic challenger Peter Cooke then followed pointing out the governor’s failure to lead.
“This election is about salesmanship versus leadership. Salesmanship is selling the present. Leadership is planning for the future. … Right now the part-time legislature is running the full-time governor,” Cooke said.
One of the biggest issues of the debate was education. Cooke accused the state of neglecting education since 1995 saying, “If we don’t take care of education, we as a state cannot move forward.”
Cooke said that the way to grow business is through education, “Without education, we lose.”
In defense of his policies, Herbert said, “We’re putting more money into education. … For the last few years that I’ve been in charge we’ve increased education funding.”
The governor continued, “Education is my number one priority in my budget.”
Cooke began the segment on health care by showing his support for publicly funded health care.
“I believe in supporting the expansion of Medicaid. … It’s a great investment for the state of Utah,” Cooke said. “A state that can handle education, a state that can handle the issue of health care, will be a state that will grow in the future and we have to meet that issue head on.”
Herbert addressed the success Utah has had in health care reform which started even before President Obama took office.
“Utah has been at the forefront of health care reform. … We’ve been cited by both parties as an example of good quality health care. We have the lowest cost health care in America and about the fifth or sixth rated best quality. So we’re doing something right here in Utah,” Herbert said. “We want to make sure that those who are most vulnerable amongst us are in fact taken care of. The good news is we have a healthier economy. The healthier we are is a reflection of the wealthier we are.”
The candidates took on the issue of immigration following a question asking if they would continue the law that allows in-state tuition for undocumented students.
Herbert put his support behind the law and touched on the lack of federal involvement. “We hope to get the federal government off the sidelines and in the game,” Herbert said.
“I think we’ve done a very good job here in Utah of addressing a very complicated issue that’s been neglected by the federal government. Again, our in-state tuition program has worked very well for us and I see no reason to change,” Herbert said.
Cooke distanced himself from the governor in his support for minority business opportunities and called the governor out on his refusal to to sign the Compact, a list of guidelines for the discussion of immigration.
“It’s real simple, Governor, sign the compact. That is showing unity right off the bat. Business, and chamber of commerce, and all the different leaders in church organizations have signed that. By signing that you bring unity and that is an important piece on this issue.”
In his closing remarks, Herbert once again stated that he is proud of his record. “Is it perfect? No. Have we stubbed our toes in a few areas? Absolutely yes. But is it better? Positively it’s better,” Herbert said. Then quoting the Wall Street Journal he said, “Utah is the brightest star on the flag.”
Cooke closed by advocating for the return of unity and balance to the state saying, “A vote for Cooke and Rampton will mean balance; will mean an opportunity for us all to move forward.”
In a press conference following the debate, Herbert and Cooke disagreed about whether the three debates is enough.
Herbert believes the debates have helped people decide how to vote. “I think people understand the difference between a Republican running for office and a Democrat running for office,” Herbert said.
Cooke voiced his dissatisfaction with the governor’s refusal for more debates asking, “What is the governor afraid of?” Cooke said and challenged the governor to a debate, wherever and whenever he wants.