Six Democratic candidates hoping to fill a vacant state senate seat met in a debate last night organized by the Alliance for a Better Utah. The seat in Senate district 2 is left open by Ben McAdams who was elected the Salt Lake County Mayor earlier this month.
The six candidates took part in the debate at the Utah Museum of Fine Art. Political reporter Max Roth of Fox 13 News moderated the contest and began by asking how the next Senator will work with Republicans in the Senate. Democrats will hold only 5 of 29 seats in the next session. Former Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson touted her bipartisan approach.
“Where I have been successful at the county was getting to know the Republicans I work with and that’s where I got things done. And you find out what motivates people. You find that common ground. You search for that common ground,” said Jenny Wilson.
Questions about the future of Utah’s Medicaid program were posed to candidates including whether the state should move forward with an expansion of services to more people. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said the program should serve more people.
“The federal government will be paying for one hundred percent of the Medicaid expansion. It just makes sense to expand the coverage for Utahns who don’t have adequate health care and there’s certainly plenty of them,” said Peter Corroon.
Education spending was also up for debate and all the candidates agreed Utah should spend more money on it. Democratic party chairman Jim Dabakis said Utah trailed other states in funding levels for too long.
“Including the District of Columbia, we’re fifty-first in educational spending and we have been there for 27 years. And the next state? It’s not like a little jump. It’s Mississippi and they’re 911 dollars per kid more than ours,” said Jim Dabakis.
The issue of gay rights also entered the debate and whether or not gay and lesbian couples would have marriage equality. Nearly all the candidates agreed gay marriage should be legal in Utah, but Syracuse City Attorney Will Carlson said that LGBT citizens still need basic protection.
“More fundamental is the right to be able to keep your job and be judged based on how you’re doing your job. And be able to keep your home and be judged on whether you can pay your rent. You can still be evicted for being queer in Utah. You can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” said Will Carlson.
Along with Corroon, Wilson, Carlson and Dabakis, community organizer Robert Comstock and state representative Brian Doughty weighed in on the issues. Democratic delegates will vote on Saturday December 1st to elect a new Senator to the district 2 seat.