Legislative leaders in hot seat on new SLCC program

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 25 2011 6:46 p.m. MDT

Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010.

Ravell Call, Deseret News, KSL-TV Chopper 5

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SALT LAKE CITY — For years, Utah's governor has fielded questions from local reporters during an unedited televised monthly press conference.

Now it's the Legislature's turn.

Salt Lake Community College is launching a new program, "Capitol Voices," on Wednesday featuring Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.

Their half-hour exchange with reporters will be televised on SLCCTV, which can be viewed online and on Comcast Ch. 17 throughout the county, except in Kearns and Salt Lake City. The broadcast will be livestreamed at 9 a.m.Wednesday.

The format is similar to KUED Channel 7's long-running program, "The Governor's Monthly News Conference," broadcast from the public television studios on the University of Utah campus.

"We have some great resources at the college similar to what KUED does," said Tim Sheehan, SLCC vice president of institutional advancement. "We thought maybe we should do the same thing."

Sheehan said the intent is to reach out to the community with programming that has a broader appeal than the typical fare of classroom lectures, campus events and city council meetings.

"We think this is one that makes sense," Sheehan said. "People want to hear from their legislative leaders."

He said for now, only the Senate president and House speaker will participate, meaning viewers won't hear from the minority Democratic leadership.

"It seems to us the speaker and president may bring the highest profile," Sheehan said. "It's a logistics issue as well, who will draw the most attention and who will reporters be most interested in."

Waddoups said his first reaction when he was invited to be on the program was, "Who cares?"

But then he said he saw an opportunity to promote the issues important to lawmakers even when the Legislature is not in session. The program is envisioned as continuing indefinitely.

"There's always something out there, so why not give everybody a chance to hear it?" the Senate leader said. "It'll probably help us get some better coverage on issues we're concerned about and it'll probably be a benefit to the public."

Waddoups said he also liked the idea of being involved with the college and its students, who will help produce the program. The program will be taped at the college's Redwood Road campus, located in Taylorsville.

"It gives them the opportunity to do it with someone who's out in the trenches," he said. "I'm a big fan of the community college. I think it's the best value for the dollar in the state. There's a lot of good teaching going on out there."

Lockhart said she, too, appreciated the chance to let the public know where legislative leaders stand.

"We aren't full-time like the governor, if you will, so getting our message, our positions, our agenda out is always a good thing to do," the speaker said. "This is a way to do that outreach."

Plus, she said, the program "shows people you're a real person, and that it's not always scripted. I think that's healthy. We really are just normal people."

Ken Verdoia, the host and producer of KUED monthly press conference with the governor, welcomed the college's new program.

"I think the community college is on the right track and I commend their efforts," Verdoia, KUED's director of production services, said. "The more information the public receives, the better perspective they have on the operations of their government."

He said issues such as immigration reform, public records access and redistricting are part of the "clear and compelling agenda our Legislature has had to deal with. To increase the flow of information at this time — perfect timing."

Verdoia said he does not see the college as competing with KUED's program, which has aired through a number of governors.

"No, no, no, not at all," he said. "I view this as just another window open on the process."

Sheehan said the college wasn't focused "so much about what the U. was doing in a competitive sense" as in providing a service. "We weren't thinking about, well, they're doing it and we're not."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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