FARMINGTON -- Once again, Gov. Gary Herbert took political heat from his Republican opponents, but this time it was the lieutenant governor who defended the incumbent's positions.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell participated in a debate for Republican candidates at the Farmington Community Center on Friday afternoon. The event was sponsored by the Davis County Young Republicans.
About 150 people attended to hear the positions of the candidates, including David Kirkham, Morgan Philpot, Lane Ronnow, William Skokos and Ken Sumsion.
Herbert was unable to attend the event because of two previously scheduled engagements -- one at the University of Utah and the other at the Capitol -- said Scott Ericson, Herbert's campaign manager.
Each candidate hopes to get 60 percent of the Republican delegates on their side at the state Republican Convention, to be held April 21 at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy. If one of them does that, a Republican primary election in June can be avoided.
Skokos said if he was governor, he would have taken an immediate stand on the controversial sex education bill that Herbert vetoed. That bill, if it became law, would have not allowed students to learn about contraceptives.
"Parents need control over their children," Skokos said. "Our children need more education in math and science, not sex education."
Bell defended Herbert's veto, saying it was "a bad bill."
About 95 percent of parents signed waivers allowing their children to participate in the sex education courses.
Bell said one legislator asked the governor not to veto the bill even though the majority of Utahns wanted him to do so.
"These parents don't understand," the legislator told the governor, Bell said.
The governor "believes in the parents," Bell said.
Sumsion called the bill "a value bill" and said it came about because Planned Parenthood was using the state school system to teach about alternative lifestyles through its maturation program.
The candidates also tackled immigration, with the majority of the candidates saying the governor could have used his office to push a tough immigration bill through the session.
Philpot, a former legislator, said if Utah does nothing about immigration it is "a sanctuary state" for illegal immigrants.
Kirkham took aim at the governor for the recent breach in the state health department that has put about 900,000 clients' identity at risk after a hacker got into its computer system.
"As a businessman, the buck stops here, at the top," Kirkham said. "Why wasn't it encrypted? Why wasn't this done?"
Kirkham also pointed to a recent bookkeeping error that will cost the Utah Office of Education another $25 million and two employees their jobs. He also said more oversight should have been in place long ago at the Division of Alcohol and Beverages Commission.
"Is someone not paying attention at the top?" Kirkham asked.
All of the candidates agreed that state government agencies need to reduce their budgets.