<strong><em>Photo by D. Whitney Smith | Hard News Cafe</em>
<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Lt Gov. Greg Bell and Democratic challenger Vince Rampton had their first and only debate at Utah State University, Wednesday. The debate was sponsored by Utah Public Radio, the USU Institution of Government and politics and USU’s college of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The mediators in the debate were Mike Lyon, Kerry Bringhurst and Erik Mikkelsen. The debate focused on education and Utah’s economy. Other topics discussed included voter turnout, public lands and what each candidate would do about transparent government.
Rampton started off with his introduction stating the three things he would focus on if he was elected – campaign finance reform, better effort at voter outreach in Utah and more restraints on Utah’s lobbyists.
Bell commended Utah State on the research done and went into the three things he would focus on as Lt. Gov. – the environment, energy and higher education.
Governor Gary Herbert has outlined a plan that 66 percent of the state’s population will earn a degree or certificate of higher education by 2020. He also said not everyone needs a college education, but at least something after high school. Utah has the ability to finance higher education but he said he realizes how serious the competition for dollars is so it needs to be done in a very intelligent way.
“We simply don’t have the basis in lower schools and the problem has been lack of funding and lack of proper support in the K-12 funding,” Rampton said in his rebuttal. “Peter Cook and I will see to it that education is properly funded in the state of Utah. It needs to be jacked up to where it was in the levels 1996 and before.”
Rampton suggested the support of stem-zones in the K-12 schools, so that engineering is infused into the programs at the elementary school level.
Another argument on education was funding. Rampton stated that the funding proposal for the state of Utah was roughly $64 million, when in actuality only a $21 million budget passed. Bell came back by saying that every state funded department was cut by a minimum of 25 percent – so passing $21 million was an accomplishment.
“I feel your pain on tuition,” Bell said. “It’s very difficult to afford and I’m sorry for that. But in perspective, we realize that among state funded universities our tuition is second of the least expensive in the nation. We do all we can to keep that affordable.”
A big topic in the debate was job creation and how Utah citizens are going to obtain them and what each candidate would do in order to help.
Bell talked about how Utah’s economy has remained second or third during the recession and the state’s unemployment rate is below the national average. He stated that Utah needs to create an environment in the state that’s friendly and inviting to businesses.
“(The economy is) not as rosy as Lt. Bell says it is – 90,000 jobs have left us since 2009,” Rampton said.
He also said companies believe Utah’s draw and sales pitch is the state is a “source of cheap well educated labor.” To fix this, Utah needs to start building from the inside out. Rampton said Utah should hold regional meetings to hammer out the economic problems getting in the way of businesses.
“I was very impressed with both candidates,” said Tim Barber, a Political Science major at USU. “I thought they were … both seriously concerned with the issues and wanted to discuss them. I think Vince Rampton was more aggressive and more forceful and made people notice a lot more. Lt. Bell was a little more reserved and had a softer approach. I think Rampton was more successful overall.”