It has been my privilege over the last year to serve as a board member of the newly formed Utah Debate Commission (UDC). The UDC, which is modeled after the Presidential Debate Commission, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization determined to produce a series of debates each election cycle for candidates seeking statewide or federal office in Utah (i.e, governor, attorney general, U.S. senator and U.S. House).
Understanding the importance of debates to our electoral process, and given that debate participation and scheduling is often dictated by the interests of particular candidates, with some incumbents refusing to debate altogether, the UDC can and will provide a tremendous public service by organizing and standardizing debates in Utah. I fully endorse the commission and its mission.
From the great debates on the pages of the Federalist Papers, to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in rural Illinois, to the spectacle of modern-day presidential debates, public discourse and debate have always been part of the fabric of American life. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”
In a representative republic, where our elected leaders make decisions on behalf of the people, being well-informed about the principles, motives and beliefs of those who seek to represent us is of paramount importance. By organizing and sponsoring debates, the UDC is helping strengthen our form of government.
UDC sponsored debates are open to candidates from all registered political parties in Utah who meet a minimum threshold of support for participation. Candidates who in a recent Lighthouse Research poll reached or exceeded a 6 percent support threshold (10 percent of those polled minus a 4 percent margin of error) have been invited to participate in this year’s debates. While some have questioned the need for candidate participation thresholds, such thresholds are necessary to help ensure the most robust debates possible among the most viable candidates given the tight time constraints of live, televised events.
The UDC is led by an experienced board of 28 directors, including representatives of the six affiliate television stations (KSL, KUTV, KTVX, KUED, FOX 13 and KBYU), representatives of six universities in the state (USU, BYU, WSU, SUU, UVU, and Utah), and other civic and community leaders.
The UDC is co-chaired by a Republican, former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, and a Democrat, former Utah state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Scott Howell. While several members of the board, including me, are active in and committed to our respective political parties, the actions of the UDC board and UDC leadership have been focused, without exception, on creating an objective environment and format where participating candidates can communicate directly with Utah voters, addressing issues of common concern.
Weber State University, Southern Utah University, Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University and the University of Utah will host the five debates this year. Each hour-long debate will begin at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast live on multiple local TV stations and KSL NewsRadio. Live streaming of the debates will also be available on the UDC website.
The first debates begin next week, with candidates for the 1st Congressional District scheduled to debate on Tuesday, Sept. 23, and the candidates for the 2nd Congressional District scheduled to debate on Thursday, Sept. 25. The attorney general, 3rd Congressional District and 4th Congressional District debates will follow on Wednesday, Oct. 1, Tuesday, Oct. 7, and Tuesday, Oct. 14, respectively. Please visit www.utahdebatecommission.org for more information.
I hope that each of us will take the time to watch the debates. Thanks to the efforts of the UDC, they will mark a substantial step forward in our political discourse.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and former U.S. Senate candidate.