Utah House District 53 candidates Cole Capener and Logan Wilde faced off in a debate held at Larry’s Spring Chicken Inn last week, hosted by both the Morgan County Republican and Constitution Party.
A Ben Lomond High graduate, Capener lives in Park City with his wife, Jane, and daughter, Rosemary. An international business lawyer for 30 years using the Chinese language he learned while on an LDS mission has enabled him to visit 60 countries. He has also been employed as a part-time instructor at both the University of Utah and other universities in China.
“I spend a lot of time in China, and have learned many lessons,” said Capener, 60. “I am not a politician, but I have a unique perspective.”
Wilde said he has served his local community for the past 15 years on water boards, conservation districts and as the Morgan County Council chairman.
“I like to serve and see things happen in my community. That is why I ran,” said Wilde, 40. “In Morgan County, we are looking at building new schools with the cost born by taxpayers. Morgan needs assistance and I have seen other schools get state assistance. I see things we need in Morgan County that have direct play with the legislature.”
Wilde said he saw “problems” with House Joint Resolution 8, calling a constitutional convention of the states, and that supporting Rob Bishop’s federalization bill in the house “is a better alternative.”
Capener said he was opposed to HJR8 as well, saying that any efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution should not be “willy nilly.” While he supports term limits suggested in the resolution, he does not like “unfunded liabilities” that could become burdens on the states. “I agree with the motivation, but would like to see how it is dealt with by the legislature and Congress,” Capener said.
Both candidates said it is a challenge to represent the diverse interests in their district made up of five counties: Morgan, Summit, Daggett, Rich and Duchesne.
Capener said the boundaries are a result of gerrymandering. “That is not a good thing. We should have better district boundaries,” he said. “It makes it difficult to represent from the Idaho border to the Colorado border.” Despite his opinion on the boundaries, Capener said he was willing to go out, listen and learn.
Wilde said District 53 is not the largest in the state, as three others are larger, “but it does take time to go from Rich to Dutch John.” He said the challenge is that with the difference in demographics, his constituents are concerned about a vast variety of issues—from growth in Morgan and Summit counties to struggling rural communities in Rich and Dagget counties. But one thing he finds they have in common is that the manipulation of funding on the state level “hamstrings” the communities in District 53. For example, funds for Morgan schools are equalized and then given to “much bigger schools.”
In fact, Wilde said the most pressing issue that he would like to influence if elected would be education funding and work to encourage teachers to come to Utah. He said he is also concerned with the way legislators want to address and perhaps eliminate the greenbelt tax.
Capener said the most pressing issues are education, education, education.
“We really have to do a better job at the state level to support education. We are vastly under-supporting teachers and students,” Capener said. “The Chinese education system does very well on standardized testing internationally. We need to guarantee a world-class technological education. We have to fund it and pay our teachers properly in order to attract them. We have a shortage throughout the state. I want to reduce class sizes and ensure there is a computer in every classroom.”
Although they both understand that freshman legislators have little choice, the candidates shared their thoughts on which committees they would like to sit on if elected to the State House. Both mentioned the Natural Resource and Environment Committee and the House Education Committee. Wilde also said he had interest in the Taxation and Revenue Committee because he is “not a person to raise taxes.”
Both candidates agreed that mandatory minimum sentences are flawed.
“It has been proven over and over again that minimum sentences do not work, and it is not a means to get a rehabilitated person,” Wilde said. “Just throwing someone in jail costs taxpayers money and doesn’t fix the solution.”
Capener agreed. “Mandatory sentences fill our prisons with nonviolent criminals with a heaven burden on taxpayers. They limit the discretion of judges to make proper sentences.”
Capener said that while the Fourth Amendment protects against unwarranted search and seizure, the idea that criminals should not keep the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains has existed for a long time. However, it should not be “enlarged” that your property can be seized even if you are not accused of a crime and then have to work to prove that that property is not part of ill-gotten gains.
Wilde agreed with Capener and said that mothers should not lose their house because their children brought drugs into it. “The government needs to come up with due process and not step on property rights,” he said. “Too often the government thinks they can step in and do whatever they want. We need to push back against those kinds of intrusions into our lives.”
Wilde says truancy laws have “gotten out of control in some aspects.” While he does believe schools need a resource to handle truancy, they should work with parents to uncover “unseen problems” before enforcing laws.
Capener, however, said he supports truancy laws. “Kids have to be in school to gain an education,” Capener said. “In order to compete in the 21st Century, we need laws to keep them in schools.”
The candidates differed on if Medicare should be expanded.
Capener said that he was raised to care for neighbors. “Health care shouldn’t be restricted to those who can afford it,” he said. “We have an obligation as a state to reach and provide the where-with-all to go to the doctor when sick.”
Wilde said that at first, he agree with the government plan to expand Medicare. However, when he discovered it was a temporary four-year fix and that states that had expanded now couldn’t come up with the funds to continue such service, he changed his mind.
“There were other options discussed in the House that would have been more viable,” Wilde said. He said the gap of people not being covered by Medicare have been picked up by other programs. “We do have safety nets,” he said.
Wilde said there needs to be more state oversight on tow truck response times in Morgan County. “It is hard to get administration to move when they don’t see the problem,” he said. “We need to push back against the state to fix it.”
Capener disagreed, saying that fixing the problem would result in a monopoly, and “I am not sure a monopoly is good under any situation.”
Capener said the Utah State Division of Water Rights should improve its database. “Water needs to be properly managed,” he said. “The more complete the database is, the more it helps the state administer this issue.”
Wilde disagreed, saying the division was already doing a good job. “Overhauling the whole system would cost a lot of money,” he said.
Wilde said there needs to be more studies conducted on the effects of legalizing medical marijuana. “It is hard to have those studies when the federal government classifies it as a narcotic and does not allow federal funding to study it,” Wilde said. “The state needs to push back against the role the federal government is taking and say, ‘We believe there is value here.’”
Capener agreed that it is good to look at legalizing marijuana “in a restricted sense.”
Capener said he would like to get rid of the tax break that was given to high-end tax payers under Gov. John Huntsman’s flat tax. Eliminating the tax break would allow more money for education, he said. Capener also said he does not approve of diverting money from public education to roads. “We are not spending enough on education,” he said.
Getting more money to education comes from ending the manipulation of funds on the state level, Wilde said. “Give the money back to the local school districts without strings or attachments,” Wilde said. “I would like to see that we stop trying to micromanage public education funds and put it where it really needs to go.”
Wilde says he does not favor putting more restriction on people to reduce air pollution. “It takes a toll on freedoms we’ve been given,” he said.
Capener disagreed, saying he believes in clean air solutions for not only physical health, but for the economic health of the state. When his friends from Beijing say that Salt Lake feels like home because of the pollution in the air, “that is unacceptable,” he said. “If we expect to clean the air, we have to impose regulations. Nobody does it voluntarily.”
Both candidates believe that anti-discrimination legislation is a good idea.
“I believe that we are not supposed to be a respecter of persons,” Capener said. “The government has an obligation to ensure there is not discrimination. That is good policy.”
“I applaud the state for taking the steps they did,” Wilde said. “The government needs to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all people.”
Both candidates addressed the relocation of the state prison.
“It is going to cost money to come up with a new prison, and that concerns me,” Wilde said.
“I believe in cost-efficient government. I will be very careful of improper taxpayer expenditures,” Capener said, noting that the decision to move the prison could have been influenced by developers intent on capitalizing on prime property where the jail is located now. “The costs to move it are much more than originally expected. I would have voted to keep it where it is.”
Capener said that the Count My Vote Initiative was “good for the process,” and “allowed more primary elections and more to participate in choosing each party’s nominee.”
Wilde said that taking away the caucus and going instead to primary elections lead to candidates concentrating on urban areas to collect the popular vote and abandoning rural areas like the ones in District 53. “Taking the voice away from small rural areas hurts,” Wilde said.
In conclusion, Wilde said he believes in self government. “At times we need to push back against government. As a whole, I feel most people govern themselves well instead of having someone else govern them,” he said. “I feel strongly self government is usually the best.”
Capener drew on his experiences living in China for 20 years during his concluding remarks. “I am no fan of the political system there. You don’t hear different voices. Corruption is inevitable in a one-party state like the Chinese Communist Party. In China, there is a disconnect between those who govern and are governed,” Capener said. “In our state, that is also true. Eighty-four percent of the seats are held by one party. The majority party meets secretly and makes decision about legislation. I am running because we need to hear different voices. We need competition. That is how we bet better public policy.”