Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans is encouraging several legislative candidates to not participate in debates organized by groups that include Alliance for a Better Utah.
Evans says he has nothing against Republican candidates participating in debates, but that he is against these debates because he thinks the group Alliance for a Better Utah is not an honest broker. He says they are using political trickery and hiding behind the good name of the John R. Park Debate Society at the University of Utah to stack the deck against Republican candidates.
“But what the John R. Park Society doesn’t have control over is who asks questions from the audience," he says. "And guess who is responsible for marketing and getting people to the debate? Alliance for a Better Utah. So, who do you think they’re going to market and advertise to, to get people to show up? To those that are hostile and not supportive of the Republican candidate.”
Michael Middleton is the director of the John R. Park Debate Society. In an email response to Evans, he says no one can ever have absolute control over audience participation and that they’ve done everything they can to ensure a fair debate.
Alliance for a Better Utah executive director Maryann Martindale says their only intent is to help voters learn more about the candidates on the ballot.
“If I’m in an area where there are no debates, there are no public forums, the only thing I have are those mailers that arrive at my door," she says. "I may have someone knock on my door, but again it’s going to be a very controlled conversation. It’s a very safe conversation for a candidate to have. A debate puts everybody, it kind of exposes everyone.”
Martindale says so far, only Republican House District 44 Candidate Bruce Cutler has backed out. They’ve invited candidates from senate districts 4 and 12 and state house districts 30, 38, and 44.