Mike Terry, Deseret News
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon speaks with his wife and adviser, Amy Corroon, at their home in Salt Lake.

Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon — who has confirmed he's a candidate in this year's gubernatorial race — called out GOP Gov. Gary Herbert on Sunday for what he said is the governor's failure to take the lead on some of Utah's biggest issues.

Even before his official announcement, expected Tuesday, Corroon is drawing contrasts between Herbert's approach to running the state and how he would, as governor, address critical policy matters.

"I think there are a lot of things that we could be doing differently," Corroon said. "I think Gary Herbert has not taken strong leadership roles on strong issues like high-level radioactive or foreign waste coming into the state of Utah, and also on the Snake Valley issue where Las Vegas is trying to take water away from the state."

Corroon also criticized current and past state Republican leaders for a legacy of slashing funding for education.

"Our state leaders have talked about education as their No. 1 priority for decades and Utah is falling in national standards," Corroon said. "They've cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of our education system. If that's priority No. 1, I'd hate to see priorities 2 and 3."

On hearing the first campaign-like challenges out of the Corroon camp Sunday evening, Herbert's office released a statement laying the groundwork for further debate of the issues.

"While we understand the politics behind Mayor Corroon's statements, Gov. Herbert looks forward to discussing his successes on these important policy issues, and many others, over the course of the campaign," the statement said.

"Rather than engage in a debate of political rhetoric, the governor is focused on governing the state of Utah at this challenging time and preparing for the upcoming legislative session."

"Gov. Herbert holds economic development, energy, education, ethics and public lands and resources as the top issues facing the state and will continue to aggressively address these issues as governor."

While the chance for both candidates to discuss political stances is likely forthcoming, Corroon is facing an uphill battle in a state government dominated by Republicans. Utah voters haven't put a Democrat into the top executive office since Scott Matheson was elected to a second term in 1980. Corroon will also be contending with a standing governor who, though not elected to the position, is already sitting on $1 million-plus campaign war chest. Corroon, who raised over $225,000 in the final three months of 2009 and is carrying over about $77,000 from his 2008 mayoral campaign, recognized he has a long way to go in building the bank account, and reaching the voters, to mount a competitive race.

"It's going to take $2.5 million," Corroon said. "And a good pair of shoes."

In those shoes, Corroon said, he will take his message to all corners of the state — a task necessary for a man whose name is not well known outside the Wasatch Front.

"I'm going to be out there going to every one of the 29 counties in the state, meeting with citizens and convincing them why I can bring the state into the future," Corroon said.

Early support for the mayor has come from some of the financial standard-bearers for Utah Democrats, including financier Art Lipson, gay-rights activist and WordPerfect co-founder Bruce Bastian and the Utah AFL-CIO. Corroon said he expects to build support from far-ranging sources and feels his message about what's needed in a state leader will resonate beyond the environs of left-leaning Salt Lake County.

"We're going to get back to basics," Corroon said. "We're going to have a smaller, more efficient government. We're going to focus on education, on our renewable energy economy and maintaining our good quality of life in Utah, which brings people here and businesses here."

While not shying away from an early effort to highlight the differences between himself and Herbert, Corroon said he does not expect the campaign to get ugly.

"I respect Gary Herbert and think he's an honorable person," Corroon said. "And, I don't think he would want to get into the mud and have a dirty campaign, and I don't want to do that. Let's talk about the issues and how to make Utah better."