Gubernatorial candidates took questions from four Utah Valley University students during the Utah Debate Commission’s televised debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
UVU was originally scheduled to host the debate between Republican candidate Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox and his Democratic challenger, University of Utah professor Chris Peterson. When it was moved to a socially distanced TV studio, some students were invited to submit questions via video.
Hailey Burt, a freshman studying education, said she submitted her video for extra credit in a political science class. The debate commission told her via email her question was being considered and it aired about midway through.
When mulling over what to ask, she decided to focus on something timely.
“I wanted to focus on the real problems going on in America right now with law enforcement and the black lives movement,” Burt said.
Her question: “How do you plan on restoring people’s confidence in the police?”
Cox said we need a simple combination of “competence and ethics”, and praised how local law enforcement leaders have been willing to make improvements.
Peterson said he opposes defunding police, but believes we need more community involvement, de-escalation training and mental health resources for both officers and the citizens they protect.
Burt said she appreciated both responses but preferred what the Republican candidate had to say.
“I felt like Cox focused more on the actual question with ideas about how to make law enforcement better, and I felt like Peterson didn’t offer a solution but just said he wanted to be on everyone’s side, and didn’t provide any actions,” she said.
The first question, other than an introductory one by moderator Doug Wright from KSL News Radio, was asked by UVU student Preston Strickland.
“What should the government do about mask wearing among college students? Because they have clearly not been taking it seriously and it is an ongoing problem.”
Peterson said we need to use improved testing, personal protective gear and technology to slow the curve.
Cox said our current outbreak is being “driven by young people,” citing Utah County’s recent spike, and said college-aged adults need to take it seriously or risk infecting people more vulnerable than us.
When asked point-blank whether Cox would support a statewide mask mandate, he said he appreciates what Governor Herbert is already doing. Peterson called for a statewide mandate as early as July.
Jair Cardona, a freshman studying forensic science, also asked about coronavirus.
“What is your plan for slowing the spread of COVID-19 now that more schools and churches are opening full-time despite the rising outbreaks in Utah?” Cardona asked.
Petersen said we need to increase testing and contact tracing and wishes they would have opened things more gradually. Cox called Salt Lake County not fully reopening K-12 schools a “big mistake” and said keeping schools closed is damaging in other ways, favoring a hybrid model.
Cardona said he asked the question because he doesn’t believe schools and churches are responding properly – and favored Peterson’s answer.
“I was unsatisfied with Lt. Gov. Cox’s response because [he] simply said to keep the status quo and ignore the problems,” Cardona said. “Prof. Peterson gave a general overview of the problem in schools and churches but at least recognized the issue.”
UVU student McKay Williams asked the final student-submitted question: “What do you plan on doing to protect public lands here in Utah?”
Cox responded by saying that Utah is a “public lands state,” and that we can aid the economy by allowing those lands to be used in various, “responsible” ways.
Petersen essentially agreed, also mentioning the money we should be collecting from the government for unpaid taxes for those lands.
Cox has a 28-point lead in the race at the time of publishing, according to FiveThirtyEight.
The debate was the only one scheduled for the gubernatorial race. To see the full video, visit the Utah Debate Commission’s official website. It is also available to stream on YouTube.
A previous version of this story, published in the print edition on Monday, Oct. 5, incorrectly listed the debate moderator as Rod Arquette. The Review apologizes for the error.