The League of Women Voters’ Bonita Kolb and KZMU’s News & Public Affairs Director Molly Marcello moderated a virtual candidates’ forum on Oct. 5 ahead of November’s general election. State and county candidates expressed their views on issues from local tourism to the Affordable Care Act.
The League is a nonpartisan organization, Kolb reminded viewers, which “seeks to provide information to voters on candidates of all stripes.” The questions asked during the forum were submitted by League of Women Voters-Grand County members, KZMU staff and the community.
Grand County candidates
With multiple candidates for office in Grand County running unopposed, some took the opportunity to better communicate with the public rather than engage in debate.
The county’s unopposed candidates include Quinn Hall for Clerk/Auditor and Chris Kauffman for Treasurer.
“About two weeks after I started, the pandemic hit, so it’s been an interesting year,” Hall commented.
Chris Kauffman cited his progress as Grand County Treasurer on making information more accessible online. Citizens can find answers to property tax questions, utilize electronic payment and billing options and opt to have their property taxes paid on a monthly or annual basis.
“I’ve been able to make significant progress on my goals, and I’m running for reelection because I want to build on these successes,” said Kauffman.
The seats of Grand County commissioners Evan Clapper and Gabriel Woytek are uncontested in November’s election, as is the seat Jacques Hadler is running for.
Greg Halliday, the Grand County commissioner representing District 4 since 2016, is running for re-election against challenger Trisha Hedin.
Hedin and Halliday were first asked about managing conflicts between business owners and developers.
“Somehow we have to reach a balance between economic viability and maintaining where we live,” said Halliday. “This is not an amusement park like Disneyland; this is where people live and we need to remember that.”
Hedin has lived in Moab for 20 years and teaches at Utah State University’s Moab campus.
“We’re all looking for sustainable economies and sustainable growth. The community is straining with having a quality of life and not having the infrastructure that we need,” Hedin answered. “We want to provide an experience not only for our locals, but for tourists. That is going to be valuable and is going to bring those people back.”
Each voiced their disapproval of a proposed Bureau of Land Management road through the Book Cliffs, agreeing that another north-south corridor would be unnecessary and expensive.
“[The Book Cliffs] holds a tremendous amount of wildlife…and the fact that we would reiterate another highway onto the backs of taxpayers is appalling to me,” Hedin said.
Halliday concluded this portion of the debate by stating his concern about COVID-19, encouraging residents to “maintain vigilance because the virus is always out there.” Halliday voted in favor of Grand County’s mask mandate.
“I think that you have two candidates that are obviously really concerned about this community and want to take care of this community,” Hedin said.
Moab-based attorney Stephen Stocks and Grand County Democratic Party Chair Kevin Walker will face off for the one at-large seat on the Grand County Council. Stocks is running to be “an independent choice for Grand County voters” with support from the Grand County Republican Party.
Walker emphasized his “proven track record of standing up to the out-of-state hotel developers on the Planning Commission.”
Stocks and Walker both agreed that Grand County’s tourism industry makes the county less reliant on oil and gas development, but that the county should not close the door on these development options.
“If [oil and gas leasing] is not something that the community would like to have in our area, it’s not something that we need to force,” Stocks said.
“I think we have to ask ourselves, what do we want the city to look like? My hope is that in 50 years, it won’t look all that different, so I think building relationships is the way to go,” said Walker.
Regarding the ballot questions to determine the new form of county government, Stocks highlighted the need for transparency.
“My preferred form of government is the form that the individual taxpayers vote on and are able to understand and approve,” he said. Stocks served on the Change of Form of Government Study Committee and is representing clients challenging the later addition of amendments to the county’s form of government and propositions on the ballot.
See “Judge asked for clarity on commission ruling” in this edition – ed.
Walker spoke against Proposition 10, the Study Committee’s recommendation which would implement a Council-Manager form of government. He also said he opposes Proposition 16, which would decrease the commission from seven to five members.
“[Proposition 10] would be very similar to what Moab City has now, and I think the city government has been a little bit less transparent than the county government,” Walker said. “I think seven seats is better than five, and I think having some districts is better than all at-large because we get more diversity.”
The forum also hosted candidates running to represent Utah’s 70th District in the Utah House of Representatives, including incumbent Republican Rep. Carl Albrecht and the challenger, Democrat Jessica O’Leary. Carl Albrecht has served in the Utah House of Representatives for District 70 since 2017.
Albrecht and O’Leary first responded to a question about restructuring the state’s Transient Room Tax to accommodate increasing tourism.
“I was actually the one who ran that bill in the legislature in 2019 because I wanted to help rural counties and rural areas with their infrastructure needs,” answered Albrecht. “With the impacts of COVID, this transient room tax will help your infrastructure in the long run.”
O’Leary countered that much of the funds that the tax generates — approximately $3 million in revenue — is required to go toward advertising rather than to supporting local governments.
“I would like to see that money spent more on infrastructure and improving local quality of life rather than having to be spent for increased advertising for these areas,” said O’Leary. “We as taxpayers, in this district, have to pay for all the infrastructure that supports more than just the local residents.”
Candidates also addressed the stresses of UTVs on public roads, particularly the noise pollution that has disturbed once-quiet neighborhoods. Moderator Kolb mentioned Salt Lake County’s regulation setting vehicular standards for controlling this noise pollution and asked candidates if they would support a similar regulation in Grand County.
“Yes, I would. And it’s in the laws — all you have to do in Grand County or Moab City is pass a city ordinance and have your local law enforcement enforce it,” said Albrecht, a statement disputed by Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan. See “A mighty uproar” in this edition – ed. O’Leary proposed working directly with ATV and UTV manufacturers to make these vehicles adhere to a 65-decibel maximum.
“[ATVs and UTVs] do bring a lot of people to our country to recreate, but it’s a safety hazard as well. We need to work with the different groups to keep safety up, noise down,” said O’Leary
“Your right to vote is precious,” said Kolb at the end of Tuesday’s forum. “Please don’t set it aside. Please exercise your right to vote and do your part to help preserve our democracy.”
The full candidate forum can be heard at www.kzmu.org.