In the debate about whether Utah's gubernatorial candidates will debate, Gov. Norm Bangerter's campaign manager charged Friday that Democrat Ted Wilson chickened out of a challenge to debate next month.
But Wilson's campaign manager says instead that Bangerter was simply trying to intrude on a speech that Wilson already had scheduled months ago to discuss his views with the Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake.The latest in the "debate debate" began when David Buhler, Bangerter's campaign manager, read a story quoting Wilson saying he will debate Bangerter "whenever our mutual schedules will allow."
Buhler knew Wilson was scheduled to talk on May 23 to the home builders, a group that Buhler said earlier sought a debate between the candidates but had been turned down by Wilson.
Buhler said he checked Bangerter's schedule, and found he could debate that day. So Buhler asked the home builders association if it would allow a debate, but it called back Friday saying Wilson had declined.
"I'm mystified why Wilson says he is willing to debate anytime we can find a mutually agreeable day, then when the governor clears his schedule to debate at a meeting we know Wilson already has scheduled, he turns it down," Buhler said.
Rob Jolley, Wilson's campaign manager, said Wilson declined the challenge because Bangerter already had an opportunity to explain his views to the home builders, and Wilson felt he should have the same opportunity without being forced into a debate there first.
"It's easy to find where a candidate is speaking and them challenge him to debate at his speaking engagement, but that's not fair," Jolley said. "We would be happy to debate the governor and (independent) Merrill Cook at a later date before the home builders and many other groups. We plan to debate a lot."
Jolley also noted that supporters of Cook had charged that Bangerter backed out of a joint appearance with him earlier this month at the same home builders association. Cook showed up at that meeting, but Bangerter didn't sending an aide to speak for him instead.
Jolley said that happened because of a mix-up in communications. He said the campaign did not realize that Cook had been invited to the same meeting. Home builders association staffers also said the two candidates were asked to spend about 10 minutes each explaining their views, not debating.
"We'll be happy to debate Cook as long as all the other independent gubernatorial candidates are there too. Otherwise we might get a challenge from the American Party candidate or someone else who said we overlooked them," Buhler said.
Buhler adds that he still feels Wilson is avoiding a debate until possibly late in the campaign. For example, he said KUTV's "Take Two" tried to schedule both candidates for a one-on-one session, but has been unable to so far. "That's on Sunday night at 10:30. You would think they would be free then," Buhler said of the Wilson campaign.
But Jolley said Bangerter has had more of an opportunity to present his views to the public, and Wilson wants an opportunity to present his views during speaking engagements before debates begin but he does plan to debate often. "Ted's only been an announced candidate for a month."