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Utah Local Candidates' Debate Series Kicks Off

Utah candidates for local and state office are facing off this week in debates. (Kichigin/iStockphoto)
Utah candidates for local and state office are facing off this week in debates. (Kichigin/iStockphoto)
October 13, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY – Utahans are getting a break between presidential debates to learn more about how local candidates plan to address education, health care, public lands and other issues in the state.

A non-partisan debate series kicked off this week and goes until Monday. It’s sponsored by the Alliance for a Better Utah Education Fund, in partnership with the University of Utah's John R. Park Debate Society.

Rachel Sanders, the Alliance’s executive director, says the series gives the public direct access to candidates, which she believes can translate into influence.

"To pose the questions, to tell them your story, to become not just a statistic to them, but an actual human being,” she states. “Not only do you get the opportunity to sort of hold them over the fire, you also become a person that hopefully they remember while they are making decisions for the constituents."

Sanders notes the goal is to get more people engaged by bringing them together to discuss issues that affect their daily lives, and to see how candidates would act on those issues if elected.

Tonight's debate is between Democrat Karen Kwan and Republican Macade Jensen, vying for Utah's 34th House District seat.

On Monday, Republican incumbent Bruce Cutler faces Democratic challenger Christine Passey for the state's 44th House District seat.

Laura Polacheck, communications director at AARP Utah, maintains one reason the state has struggled with low voter turnout is that Utah tends to skew in a particular political direction in national races, and some people may assume their vote doesn't count.

But she says it's important, particularly for seniors, to participate in critical city council, school board, and other local elections also being decided on Nov. 8.

"Older people do vote in relatively high numbers,” she points out. “And so, we want to make sure that people have reliable, truthful, unbiased information to allow them to make the best decision that they can when they vote."

The debates – held at locations in each voter district – will also be live-streamed on the Alliance for a Better Utah's Facebook page and broadcast on public radio

The station will make podcasts available on its website after each debate.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT