SALT LAKE CITY — Unlike the presidential debate, the candidates for Utah's next governor had a civil debate and stuck to the issues.
Republican Lt. Governor Spencer Cox and his Democratic challenger, law professor Chris Peterson, joked about what was to come as they engaged in the statewide televised debate. They presented their vision for Utah in the years to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the state's handling of it was front and center during much of the debate. Cox defended the response, noting Utah has fared better than other states when it comes to a low mortality rate and jobs lost. But Peterson was critical of the state's spending and said if he was elected he would impose a statewide face mask mandate.
"I called for a statewide mask mandate back in July. I would do it today because we’ve had skyrocketing infection rates," Peterson said.
"I support where we are today. I support what Governor Herbert has chosen to do, leaving mask mandates to individual communities to make that decision," he said.
The two candidates found themselves in agreement on expanding rural broadband internet, as well as infrastructure improvements and mass transit expansion. There was some common ground on lands issues.
They differed on education policy and funding. Cox, for example, offered that a way to boost teacher pay would be to reevaluate how schools are built (referring to some as "palatial") and give that money to educators.
"We have the resources in this state to actually fund education for our kids," Peterson said. "It's not the Democratic Party that has failed to do that, it's the majority party and it's time for a little more balance, a little more forward thinking to get the job done."
They both vowed not to raise taxes and both agreed that any hike in the food tax was a bad idea.
"We saw citizens stand up and tell the legislature that’s not something they support and I would not support it as your governor," Cox said.
The Utah Debate Commission's poll, which set the threshold for candidate participation, has Cox with a 35-point lead over Peterson. But neither candidate viewed the race as a foregone conclusion.
"I know I’m the underdog and we’ve had Republican governors in this state, but each citizen has an obligation and their heart and think of the best path forward for our state," Peterson told reporters afterward.
Cox said he was not taking the polls as a given.
"We don’t take anything for granted in 2020 and more important, these elections matter and it's critical, I think, the people of Utah have an opportunity to hear different perspectives and different ideas and they get a chance to make a decision," he said.
Watch the entire debate here: