Ted Wilson is without substance, Gov. Norm Bangerter makes stupid decisions and Merrill Cook wants to destroy education. Or so you may believe if you took to heart all that was said during a gubernatorial debate among the top three candidates Friday.
The Utah AFL-CIO hosted the debate. After the three men went at each other for an hour, the 68,500-member chapter officially endorsed Democrat Wilson for governor, with union president Eddie Mayne saying a few unkind words about the Republican Bangerter in the process.Wilson leads both Bangerter and Cook by healthy margins in the polls. The most recent Deseret News/KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows Wilson with 50 percent support, Bangerter with 31 percent and Cook with 12 percent.
This was the first debate among the three candidates in several months. The trio has appeared on two TV programs before. Two months ago, Wilson and Bangerter debated before the Utah Farm Bureau, but Cook wasn't invited. There will be about a dozen more debates or joint appearances for the three between now and the Nov. 8 election.
Friday's debate in the Tri-Arc Hotel contained some of the most critical language so far. As might be expected, the union members were receptive to Wilson, a former teacher, and less sympathetic to Bangerter and Cook.
A slightly embarrassing moment came for Wilson when Bangerter challenged him to take a stand on the right-to-work law. Union members are against it. When Bangerter said he supports right-to-work - where a person doesn't have to join a union even though one represents other workers in the company - he was soundly booed by the union representatives.
Wilson wavered, trying to say that, politically, right-to-work is here to stay and the governor couldn't do anything about it. No go. Cook and Bangerter hounded him for several moments and Wilson finally said he supports right-to-work.
A steely silence filled the hall.
Some union members talked about Wilson's answer as they walked out after the debate. "We have to work on Ted's answer on that one," said one. "I can't believe he said it," added another. But Wilson has been in favor of right-to-work laws for some time, said his campaign manager Rob Jolley. "This isn't a new stand. He's said it before."
There were some lively moments in the debate. Referring to Sen. Orrin Hatch's comments this week about the Democratic Party being the party of homosexuals and Bangerter's complaint that Wilson is beholden to union bosses who contribute to his campaign, Wilson said, "Norm, you and Orrin won't be able to label your way through this campaign."
"All the tax policy problems in this state aren't the governor's fault, but a lot of the recent problems are," said Cook. Republicans raise the sales tax, and Democrats go along if the income tax will be raised also, Cook said. "The marriage of Ted Wilson and Norm Bangerter (on tax issues) spawned my independent campaign." Cook also supports the tax-cutting initiatives. Bangerter and Wilson don't. "I'm the only candidate who has a plan to make the initiatives work. Vote for them and for me," said Cook.
Bangerter said several times that he couldn't understand what Wilson was saying, meaning Wilson was double-talking. At one point, Bangerter said, "Ted, where's the beef? Where's your program. It's all hype. Ted Wilson has no experience in business. Merrill Cook has no experience in government. I have experience in both, and a proven record."
Wilson said Utah has to promote itself and change the negative image some Americans have of the state. "I'm the governor who would make (Utah Jazz coach) Frank Layden the next liquor commissioner," joked Wilson.
"That's a strange way to promote liquor," answered Bangerter.
"Are we the state of hospitality and cosmopolitan life? The governor should advertise the new liquor law changes, not hide in his office in a big chair," said Wilson.
Cook actually got a few cheers when he said Utah's No. 1 problem is low wages. Wilson said the governor should never, never publicize the state as being a good place for business because of low wages. Bangerter admitted that his Economic Development Department did, a year ago, send out one ad promoting the low wage as advantageous to business. "I found out about it and stopped it," he said. "Now we say Utah's wages are competitive."
All three agreed education is the cornerstone of the state, although they disagreed on how Bangerter has handled education or what Wilson and Cook would do to help it.
All three support the Central Utah Project, although Cook said he's the only politician who will say that the massive federal project has been badly mismanaged. All three said the Bear River should be developed and water brought from it into the Salt Lake Valley.
All three said they'd provide effective economic development programs, and all said the other guys' plans won't work.
Bangerter said his economic development and job creation programs are working. "When I came into office, there was no economic development plan. Today, 50,000 more Utahns are working than in 1984. We're averaging 12,000 to 13,000 new jobs a year. But we have to do more."
Cook said Bangerter's economic development is a failure. "Arizona, with little over double our population, created 70,000 jobs last year at an average wage of $12 an hour. We created 6,000 at $6 an hour." Cook wants tax incentives to stimulate private business.
Wilson was criticized by Bangerter and Cook for proposing a $150 million bonding program for state construction. "We need a bond," Wilson said. "Construction is down 50 percent in this state. And Norm Bangerter won't spend a dime to fix the roads." Cook said such bonding is just government-financed jobs, "like the WPA."