Three state candidates on this month’s primary ballot visited Morgan’s Riverside Park Wednesday for a town hall meeting organized by the county Constitution and Republican parties. Candidate for Utah Governor Jonathan Johnson joined candidates for Utah House of Representatives District 53, Melvin R. Brown and Logan Wilde. Local school board District 3 candidates Gaylene Adams, Jennie Earl and R. Kraig Walker also spoke with residents.
By June 28, registered Republicans will determine who advances to the November ballot for governor as well as the Utah House of Representatives District 53. Political newcomer Johnson is vying for incumbent Gary R. Herbert’s gubernatorial seat while local resident Wilde is taking on incumbent Brown.
Johnson said that anyone who wants a spot in state-wide government should not be afraid to meet with people throughout the state, which is what he has spent the last 18 months doing, he said.
“I have spent a disproportionate time off the Wasatch Front,” said Johnson, who grew up in the West Los Angeles area before coming to Utah to attend Brigham Young University. He regularly visited his grandmother’s home in Ogden during the summers of his youth.
Johnson supports local government, or “boots on the ground,” compared to federal mandates out of touch with local needs.
He said that as governor, he would push to remove the federal government from managing public lands.
“I want to pull power from the federal government and Salt Lake City, and push it down,” said Johnson, father of five sons. “I like city government more than state, and state government more than federal.”
Johnson also said that while education is a vital thing the state must provide, parents have the right to make educational decisions for their children.
“We need to allow parents to personalize their child’s education,” Johnson said.
He would like to see more money in the classroom, rather than watching 10 percent of the K-12 funding start and stop at the state school board. “That is bureaucracy,” he said. It results in teachers having to pull money from their own pockets to supply their classrooms.
Johnson said he did not support Utah Senate Bill 54, or Count My Vote initiative that is proposed to replace the state’s caucus selection process for candidates with a mandatory primary election.
“I am opposed to it and will work to repeal it if I am governor,” said Johnson, current chairman of the board at Overstock.com. “It is particularly unfair to rural Utah.” With that bill, once a gubernatorial candidate has collected 28,000 signatures to secure a spot on the primary ballot, they don’t come to rural Utah, opting instead to put up “fancy billboards.”
Johnson opposes Common Core, SAGE testing, raising taxes, and federal management of state lands.
He would like to limit the governor’s terms to two, as has been done in 36 other states, and allow a Constitutional Carry law. The builder of a billion-dollar business in Utah, Johnson believes Utah’s economy extends beyond the Wasatch Front.
Robyn Bagley, Johnson’s running mate, is founder and principal of Early College High School, Career Path High, where students earn both their diploma and a career and technical certification. A Utah native, she and her husband live in Sandy.
Brown has been representing Morgan on the State House of Representatives for a decade. In that time, he has noticed rural Utah does not get the same representation other more urban counties do. He said 67 of the 75 state legislators represent the eight most urban counties in Utah. Only eight legislators represent the other 21 rural counties in the state.
“As the population grows on the Wasatch Front, we need to safeguard rural Utah,” said Brown, who was born in Henefer and now lives in Hoytsville.
Brown said he did not vote for the state’s move to take money out of the road fund to finance water projects.
“I think that was a mistake,” Brown said.
Brown said that Utah’s school system is ranked as last in the nation partly because of the fact that Utah also has the largest family size in the nation. Brown said he was the lone Republican legislator to vote against funding preschool because it detracted from money needed in the basic K-12 program.
Wilde said he did not support Utah Senate Bill 54 because it causes rural voters to lose their voice.
“What it did to rural Utah is made it so those running for governor and state positions spend a majority of their time in urban areas because that is where the numbers are,” said Wilde, a Croydon rancher. He said that it also increases the funds candidates need to campaign. Instead of a campaign for the November election, now candidates have to gear up for two elections: the primary in June before the November election. In Weber County, that means what used to be a $40,000 campaign now needs to be an $80,000 campaign.
Wilde said he also opposes the state’s decision to take money away from roads to fund water projects. He said water should be paid for as a user-based fee.
Saying he does not support centralized, socialized education programs, Wilde said the state should find a long-term, continuous way of funding education. The use of one-time money is hurting local school districts like Morgan, he said.