The debate over debates took a new turn Tuesday with independent candidate Merrill Cook chiding Gov. Norm Bangerter for supposedly refusing to participate in debates between Cook and Democrat Ted Wilson.
"I think it's arrogant not to debate," Cook said during a luncheon meeting of Taxpayers for Accountable Government.Cook appeared with Doug Bischoff, former state Republican Party chairman and candidate for Congress, who represented Bangerter at the meeting.
Cook said he has nothing against Bischoff (in fact, Cook said he wished Bischoff were running himself), but he said he had been led to believe Bangerter would be there.
Cook said Wilson has agreed to debate and he wonders why Bangerter won't do the same. He also said it would be a shame if the governor declines to show up at joint Cook-Wilson debates especially, Cook said, when the exposure might help Bangerter's popularity.
"I think it would be unfair to exclude the governor," Cook joked.
However, Wilson press secretary Jenny Wilson said the Democratic candidate has made no specific promises to Cook; rather, Wilson has said only that he would prefer including all candidates in the debate.
Bangerter campaign manager Dave Buhler said the governor would be willing to debate Cook and other "minor party" candidates at some point, but he wants the initial debates to be between Bangerter and Wilson.
Bischoff did not take Cook's debate bait, but instead talked of the Bangerter record on spending cuts and government efficiency. He said that in 1984, Bangerter cut $100 million from the budget he inherited from former Gov. Scott M. Matheson. In four years of the Bangerter administration, he said, state spending has declined by 7 percent.
He also trumpeted Bangerter's record on economic development. During the past four years 17 companies, including McDonnell-Douglas and Western Gear, have decided to locate in Utah. He said 40,000 new jobs have been created in Utah since Bangerter took office and unemployment is actually 1 percent below what it was in 1984.
But Cook said the reason unemployment declined is that 30,000 people who couldn't get jobs left the state.