Trading quip for quip, jab for jab and compliment for compliment - Utah's threegubernatorial candidates participated in their final joint appearance Wednesday, this one at Utah Valley Community College in Orem.

The candidates gave opening statements and then responded to questions submitted by the audience packing UVCC's ballroom. Greg Engeman, a University of Utah student who is a lobbyist for the Utah Student Association, served as debate moderator."I have never felt that independent was the easiest way to get elected governor of the state of Utah, but when elected, independent will be the best way to run the state of Utah," Independent candidate Merrill Cook told the group.

Cook said there is little difference between the Democratic and Republican party leadership in Utah and said those parties are ignoring the people.

"Somebody has got to stand up when those parties forget to focus on the people," Cook said.

Cook, who has campaigned on the theme that prosperity follows tax cuts, said this belief is shared by President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush but not by the Utah Republican Party.

"We're the ones trying to do for the state of Utah what Ronald Reagan tried to do for America," Cook said.

Cook said that even if the tax initiatives fail, reasonable measures are needed to reduce the high sales taxes and income taxes in Utah.

In his opening remarks, Democratic candidate Ted Wilson quipped that it was "good to be with Norm and Merrill for the last time," but said he had come to like his opponents during the course of the campaign and told the crowd they had three honorable men to choose from on Nov. 8.

"I'm a Democrat and I'm proud of it," Wilson said. "Democrats, as you will remember, in this state have performed well. They have been great stewards of the Utah economy."

Wilson identified development of Utah's resources, the rising costs of college tuition and the percentage of high school dropouts as problems he is concerned about.

"We have to do a better job in Utah of matching our brain power with our job markets," Wilson said. "That means a challenge for higher education."

Wilson said he has developed a 35-page strategic plan for meeting short- and long-range goals, including turning the economy around, helping businesses raise capital and bringing manufacturing back to the state.

Gov. Norm Bangerter chose to open his remarks with a quip also.

"It is a pleasure to be here, and I'm with the other gentlemen, I'm about glad the pleasure is over as well. We're all ready to get on with our jobs . . . I'm a ready to get back to the governor's office, Ted's ready to get back to the University of Utah, and Merrill's ready to get back to Cook Slurry."

Bangerter said he is proud of his record during 14 years in public office, calling UVCC part of that public record.

Bangerter said he has been a strong supporter of higher education and that the expansion of that system is not over yet.

"I think . . . it takes a builder, someone who can move the program forward, who can get their program through the Legislature, who can keep this state on the roll that it really is on after suffering some difficult times," Bangerter said. "I'm that candidate."

"Reagan would love to have my record because I've reduced spending 7 to 8 percent in four years," Bangerter said. "The facts are he hasn't been able to do that on a national level."

In responding to questions from the audience, Bangerter defended his decisions on issues such as pumping and tax increases; Wilson defended his record as mayor of Salt Lake City; and Cook defended himself as a multi-issue candidate.

All three candidates said that although teachers deserve a raise, providing salary increases would be difficult under the current economic conditions. Wilson said he has a faculty retention fund proposal, and Bangerter said he believes there will be funds for an increase in next year's budget.

In response to a question about vocational education's future, all three candidates said they support vocational education and that it should be expanded.