I must admit that I love the debate season. I’ve always believed that candidate debates are fundamental to our electoral process. Former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey expressed my own belief that “Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate.” While many dislike the combativeness and incivility — perhaps even brutality — that often characterize candidate debates in this country, the process itself forces a confrontation of ideas that helps shape our republic. Debates are worth having and are worth watching.
For nearly three years, it has been my privilege to serve on the board of the Utah Debate Commission. The UDC, which is modeled after the Presidential Debate Commission, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that produces 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. representative).
The UDC is led by an experienced board of 27 directors, including representatives of Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, seven affiliate television stations (KSL, KUTV, KTVX, KUED, FOX 13, Univision 32 and KBYU), representatives of six universities in the state (Utah State University, Brigham Young University, Weber State University, Southern Utah University, Utah Valley University and University of Utah), and other civic and community leaders. It is co-chaired by a Republican, former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright, and by 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.
Last night, Dixie State University hosted and the UDC produced what was intended to be the Utah attorney general debate between the incumbent Sean Reyes (Republican) and Jon Harper (Democrat). Unfortunately, Harper withdrew his candidacy within hours of this first scheduled debate, turning the event into an extended question-and-answer session with Reyes. This was the first of seven UDC-sponsored events this election cycle. The rest of the 2016 UDC debate schedule is as follows:
- Utah Gubernatorial Debate: Monday, Sept. 26 – 6 to 7 p.m.; Utah State University
- Utah 2nd Congressional District Debate: Tuesday, Oct. 4 – 6 to 7 p.m.; University of Utah
- Utah 4th Congressional District Debate: Monday, Oct. 10 – 6 to 7 p.m.; Salt Lake Community College
- Utah Senate Debate: Wednesday, Oct. 12 – 6 to 7 p.m.; Brigham Young University
- Utah 1st Congressional District Debate: Monday, Oct. 17 – 6 to 7 p.m.; Weber State University
- Utah 3rd Congressional District Debate: Wednesday, Oct. 19 – 6 to 7 p.m.; Utah Valley University
All of these debates will be broadcast live through multiple local media outlets. If you miss the live broadcasts, you can watch the full recordings of these debates at www.utahdebatecommission.org.
We have a rich tradition of debate in this country, from the great debates on the pages of the Federalist Papers and 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 on 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.
I hope each of us will take the time to watch the UDC-sponsored debates over the next few weeks. The more informed we are as voters about our own representatives, the better decisions we will make at the polls.
Dan Liljenquist is a former Republican state senator from Utah and former U.S. Senate candidate. He is nationally recognized for work on entitlement reform.