SALT LAKE CITY — Utah higher education officials are among the latest voices urging attendance at this month's political party caucuses.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Utah Board of Regents championed the role of education in the state's economy and workforce training and said that schools require the support of lawmakers and the voters they represent.
"The benefits to our state as a whole and individual Utahns from higher education are undeniable,” Bonnie Jean Beesley, board chairwoman, said in a prepared statement. "Our ability as a system to have the capacity to continue to provide access to an affordable and high-quality college experience depends upon the support of our elected officials. And that all starts at the caucuses this month.”
Dan Campbell, board vice chairman, referred to the state's goal of having two-thirds of Utah's adult population holding a degree or certificate by 2020. State leaders are in agreement that a trained workforce is necessary to sustain Utah's growing economy, he said.
"All of us in higher education are working toward this goal, but it is clear that public support is critical, and that begins in the political process in March at party caucuses," Campbell said in a prepared statement.
The statement by the Utah Board of Regents follows one issued by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to its members, urging participation in party caucuses. Church leaders issued a similar recommendation during the 2012 elections, which was believed to have contributed to a surge in caucus attendance.
But this year's caucuses come during a time when the future of Utah's unique election process is in question. The statement by the state Board of Regents was released on the same day lawmakers approved SB54, a bill that would provide candidates with an alternate route to the primary ballot by collecting signatures, rather than being nominated by delegates at the parties' conventions.
The bill passed in the House with a 49-20 vote after roughly an hour of debate during which several lawmakers expressed a concern that an alternate route to the ballot would eventually lead to the end of neighborhood caucus meetings.
Members of the Senate later voted 21-7 in favor of the bill, which now goes before Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.
The caucuses are March 18 for the Democratic Party and March 20 for the Republican Party.