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In our opinion: Editorial: Room for debate in race between Sen. Orrin Hatch and former state senator Dan Liljenquist

Published: Sunday, May 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Senator Orrin Hatch speaks at the Utah Republican Party 2012 Nominating Convention at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy on Saturday, April 21, 2012. With 59.19 percent of the vote, Hatch fell just shy of winning the Republican nomination outright at the state GOP convention. Delegates gave Dan Liljenquist 40.81 percent of the vote in the second round of balloting.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

It is the long-standing policy of the Deseret News not to endorse candidates. Nonetheless, we are not neutral with regard to the principles we believe should govern the vital political contests regarding who represents us. Among the principles we champion in this regard are civility, transparency, accountability and participation.

We have been heartened by how well Utahns and the candidates who are vying to represent them have embraced these values during this political season. The swell of participation by citizens at neighborhood caucuses provided the prelude to more civil political party conventions.

In most contests, the party faithful coalesced around a chosen candidate, and in those races, the general election in November will be the next and final decision about who will represent us. In a few contests, however, the next step in the electoral process is the June 26 primaries.

When the Democratic Party dominated southern politics in the United States through the first half of the 20th century, by far the most important political contests were those within the Democratic Party because of the strong presumption in favor of the dominant party in any general election.

Utah faces a similar political presumption. For more than 25 years, Republicans have dominated the top statewide political races in the state. And although our idealism leads us to wish for more competitive general elections, our realism requires us to acknowledge that perhaps the most important statewide political contest this year is the Republican primary contest for U.S. senator that has emerged between incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch and former state senator Dan Liljenquist.

In the words of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert regarding this race, one in which he has refused to make an endorsement, "It's going to be tough decision for the people of Utah."

Our plea to the candidates and their surrogates is that this important contest exemplify the principles of civility, transparency, accountability and participation.

We know that the race has garnered national attention and that powerful and well-funded groups beyond the control of the candidates themselves will seek to guide and influence the outcome. They have that First Amendment right. Our hope, however, is that Utahns will have the ability to sound out what each of these able candidates themselves has to offer Utah at this important moment.

To that end, we are hopeful that the many Utahns who will participate in the June 26 primaries enjoy the benefit of hearing and seeing these candidates debate. Although contemporary political debate can sometimes devolve into demagoguery and sound bites, we do not believe that is how either of these statesmen would approach debate. And frankly we know of no better forum for allowing voters to compare candidates side-by-side, to clarify differences, to evaluate command of issues and to contrast their ability to persuade.

Although these candidates have met previously in debate and various candidate showcases, those happened largely for the benefit of party delegates, not voters. Those delegates have now offered up a two-way contest for a party-wide vote. The voters deserve the transparency and accountability provided by public debate.

In order to facilitate the broadest participation in a civil and transparent debate, the Deseret News and our sister broadcast station KSL would like to invite Hatch and Liljenquist to an hour-long debate during prime listening and viewing times in early June. Our respective editors and producers stand ready to work with the campaigns to establish the best date and format.

Whether the candidates accept this particular offer is not our chief concern. Our main concern is that the voters participating in Utah's important Republican primary have the best opportunity to compare the candidates side-by-side in open, issue-oriented debate. We believe the important electoral values of civility, transparency, accountability and participation depend upon it.

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