GOP candidates for Utah governor spar over protests, 'politicizing' COVID-19 and Trump in debate

Posted at 8:52 PM, Jun 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 00:17:19-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Utah governor sparred over a wide variety of issues facing the state in a televised debate Monday evening.

They discussed the violent protests that have hit Salt Lake City and the country, as well as President Trump's response to it. Businessman Thomas Wright said as governor he would push de-escalation training with police.

"Let's be clear: the death of George Floyd was a murder," Lt. Governor Spencer Cox said.

Former House Speaker Greg Hughes pushed back at the rioting.

"I'm with this President," he said, adding: "We cannot let that happen to our country and our state."

Former U.S. Ambassador and former governor Jon Huntsman Jr. praised law enforcement response but raised concerns about civil liberties being impacted.

"This is not what we see in the state of Utah. This is what we see in other countries," he said.

The most heated moment of the debate came as the candidates debated the state's response to COVID-19. In particular, Hughes, Wright and Huntsman were critical of Cox and the governor's handling of it. The candidates accused Gov. Herbert of "politicizing" the response including no-bid contracts.

Hughes said it is not a physician's job to understand the economics of the response.

"The buck stops with our public servants," he said.

"The politiciziation of this disease is awful and the only people playing politics with this disease are the people are on this stage," Cox said, motioning to his opponents. He defended Utah's response to the pandemic.

Huntsman countered that "there has been absolutely no accountability taken."

"I want to remind people where we've been for three months. We've been locked up in our homes where the only people who've been able to campaign and politicize are those in the governor's office, using the platform, using it as a bully pulpit," he said.

Wright accused Cox of "running for almost two years."

"We have the right to ask where is the $6.6 million for the app we paid for, for an app that's still not working," he said. "We have the right as citizens and business owners to ask these questions of our elected officials."

The candidates also discussed growth and education. Whomever wins the GOP primary on June 30 will advance to the general election to face Democratic candidate Chris Peterson.

Watch the entire debate here: