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More than 200 students and community members met with political candidates from Davis, Weber and Morgan counties Tuesday at the Hurst Center to hear their platforms. The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University sponsored the event, the last of its political leadership series.
“There’s a lot of complaining about political participation being on the decline in Utah, and I think one of the important ways to get people more involved is to provide venues for them to become better informed,” said Carol McNamara, director of the Walker Institute.
Sixty-eight candidates had a presence at the event, either coming themselves or sending representatives to meet with voters and delegates.
In November, U.S. House representatives will be up for re-election. Incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop represents Utah’s U.S. House District 1. David Yu-Chiu is challenging Bishop in the Republican primary.
On the Democratic side, Donna McAleer faces Peter Clemens at the convention for the party’s nomination. In both cases, if neither candidate reaches 55 percent of the delegates, a primary election will be held.
Clemens said Bishop puts the needs of the oil and gas extraction industry over the needs of the citizens of the state.
“The people to whom he is responsive to is a small group of stakeholders in the district,” Clemens said.
McAleer said incumbents don’t have a lot of motivation to put themselves out there and that, because the House District covers such a diverse group of people, it needs a well-rounded candidate.
She also stressed the importance of higher education, saying, “We talk a good game about education, but we don’t focus on it.”
Yu-Chiu was not present at the event. Bishop was represented by his campaign manager, Cory Snyder. Snyder declined to comment for this article.
Libertarian Craig Bowden and American Independent Party member David A. Vance are also running for Bishop’s seat.
WSU is covered by State Senate District 18. Ann Millner, former president of WSU, is running for that seat. The seat is open due to current state Sen. Stuart Reid deciding to not seek re-election.
“I don’t think I’m an issue candidate, but I do understand how all these things are connected,” said Millner, as to how education impacts the economy and the economy impacts education.
Republican Lars Birkeland is challenging Millner for the party’s nomination. Birkeland said he supports higher education, but doesn’t want to give out blank checks.
“If you can convince me there’s a good reason to spend the money, then I’m for it,” Birkeland said.
He also said he was aware of the problem of rising tuition. “One question I would have for Ann is why, if inflation is rising at 1-2 percent a year, why is college tuition rising by 4 percent?”
Democrat Mat Wenzel and Libertarian Dwight Steffner will challenge the one who gains the Republican Party’s nomination on the ballot.
Dixon Pitcher currently represents Utah’s House District 10, which covers WSU. Pitcher, a Republican, said he will continue to fight for WSU. He said he has made WSU a priority, pointing to the recently approved new science building as something he pushed for in legislature.
Eric Irvine, a Democrat, is running against Pitcher for the seat. Irvine said it’s a seat traditionally held by Democrats, and one that the state Democratic Party has targeted to win in the November election.
Irvine said he will meet with professors at WSU to get ideas on how to make college more affordable. He mentioned Oregon’s system of “pay it forward, pay it back,” which means in-state students can just go to school and begin to pay the government back once they graduate.
McNamara said she was pleased with the event and that the turnout exceeded her exceptions. She said she was pleased to see more students present than at previous events, but still would like to see more students attend.
“I want to impress upon them how important it is to be informed voters and informed citizens,” McNamara said. “It’s the way they have a voice in the issues that affect them every day.”