GOP governor candidates debate for first time

Posted at 7:45 PM, Apr 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-11 21:45:13-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City - Republican candidates vying for the governor's seat debated the issues at Little America Hotel.

Monday’s event was the first public debate this political season, after Gov. Gary Herbert has been accused of dodging debates for months.

Right out of the gate, chairman Jonathon Johnson took a jab at Herbert for his reluctance to debate.

"I would like to thank the Utah Foundation of Republican Women for hosting this. Apparently, you’re the one group in Utah that nobody can say no to," Johnson said.

From there, both candidates had plenty of issues to spar about, including the economy.

"The private sector is who we need to empower. That’s been our focus. That’s why our economy is growing so well," Herbert said.

"In Utah, we have the 13th highest licensure burden of any state in the union, whether you’re a hairdresser or in construction," Johnson said.

Candidates addressed the funding of public education with the governor touting his strong commitment to education.

"It’s about $1.8 billion of new money, K-sixth over these last five years,” Herbert said. “That’s more money we’ve been able to put in public education in our history."

But Johnson said the money isn't reaching all schools.

"Our priority in education funding should be to make sure the money we’re spending gets to the classroom," Johnson said.

They differed on Common Core.

"It’s put in place so that all 600,000 students in Utah are told what to study and all told to take Sage Test. That is not local control," Johnson said.

"If you don’t like the standards, then I suggest you run for the state school board that’s where you can make a real difference," Herbert said.

Their biggest clash centered on securing the transfer of federal lands to state control, with Johnson calling for a lawsuit, and Herbert expressing some restraint.

"I’m ready to bring that suit quickly when I’m the governor," Johnson said.

"We will have a national monument by next Friday if we filed that litigation today. We’ve got to let this play out," Herbert said.

It's all eyes on April 23 when Republicans will choose their party's nominee at the state convention. History shows anything can happen.

In 2010, Sen. Bob Bennett lost his re-election bid at the GOP convention.

Johnson must get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote to make it to the primary. But he could face an uphill battle.

According to a new poll, in a primary match up, Herbert would beat Johnson 58 percent to 20 percent.