Guv has to fend off five GOP contenders at convention

Apr 20 2012 - 12:28pm


(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) A panel of GOP candidates for governor in Farmington last Friday.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) A panel of GOP candidates for governor in Farmington last Friday.

After only three years in office, Gov. Gary Herbert has a bevy of GOP contenders nipping at his heels.

He easily won re-election two years ago after taking over from Jon Huntsman in 2009, but this time five Republicans have filed to unseat him.

In interviews with the Standard-Examiner, Herbert's opponents all said Herbert has been too slow to go after Utah ownership of federal land, too slow to change the way Utah education works and too slow to cut dependency on federal funds.

Here's a look at the four major candidates in the race.

Gov. Gary Herbert

Gov. Gary Herbert, 64, said he decided in 2010 he would run for reelection this year because two years filling out Jon Huntsman's term wasn't enough.

"That's not enough time to get your agenda in," he said. Being governor is "humbling, an honor and I think we're doing some good things. I really do believe we are doing some good things."

Herbert took office in August, 2009 when Huntsman became ambassador to China, and handily won a special election in 2010 to fill out the remainder of the term. This time he faces five challengers for renomination in the GOP state convention on Saturday.

His opponents accuse the incumbent of not being conservative enough, but Herbert said he has to deal with realities, not labels.

"You can become so conservative you become libertarian, dictatorial," he said. "You can go so far right you come from the far left. I'm probably the most conservative governor since Brigham Young, but I'm not afraid to sit down and reason with other people and see if we can come to common view."

Herbert finds it odd that he is being criticized for not reviving Utah's economy quickly enough even though it has recovered more than that of almost any other state.

"Those who are running against me are criticizing me, like 'You won the national championship, but you only averaged 40 points a game, you should be averaging 45,'aa" he said. "Yeah, we're not perfect, but my belief is we won the national championship."

Criticizing Utah's success, he said, makes his opponents look desperate. "Because we're doing well, they're going to have to grasp for some kind of issue."

One principle he said should bring all candidates together is taking over control of federal lands in Utah, the goal of bills approved in this year's Legislature.

Herbert said that control is critical, but warned there seems to be some misunderstanding about how it will work.

"If you read the legislation, you'll find we've exempted all the national parks, all the wilderness areas, and many other areas and national monuments, so this is not a desire to take away, as opponents have said."

The revenue from any lands that are sold, he said, would be split 95 percent to the federal government and 5 percent to the Utah school trust fund. That would help, but he said Utah's biggest gain would come "as we open up opportunities through drilling and natural gas, or it could be potash, gypsum, it could be other resources.

"All that generates jobs," he said, which add income taxes, property taxes and other revenue.

"My goal would be to increase the education fund by growing the economy."

Herbert said he has made good progress funding the state's education system, "complementing the teacher, adopting early intervention, online school, and we're getting good results because we're bringing people together and getting positive results. The focus I have, of course, is growing the economy."

His administration did a complete overhaul of governmental operations. "We are now doing more in governmental services with fewer employees. You have to go back to the year 2000 to find a smaller number of employees.

"And we've done that and maintained our AAA bond rating. We're one of only eight states in America with a AAA bond rating."

Ultimately, he said, Utah's future depends on its ability to continue to attract new business, which means new jobs.

"We're bilingual, we're tech savvy, we have what the market wants."

Ken Sumsion

Ken Sumsion answered the phone while sitting in his car in Magna, shifting between events as he scurries to try to corral enough support among delegates to do well at the state convention.

He isn't a single-issue candidate, but admits his bid is driven mostly by his desire to force Utah to be more aggressive in taking over federal lands in the state.

Sumsion, 49, is an accountant who represents Utah House District 56 in the Legislature, covering Lehi, Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain, Cedar Fort, Fairfield and a portion of American Fork.

Sumsion sponsored bills in the last session to demand Utah take control of the 66 percent of the state that is federal land because, he said, "We're at a crossroads to make decisions on where we go with this issue.

"Two years ago we passed legislation to do it and appropriated $3 million. We have another half-dozen bills this time with another $3 million. Do we do it again in two years with another $3 million?

"I just think it's time. The Legislature shouldn't have to be coming back and passing public land bills. I think we need to engage the federal government."

He said Herbert has been too slow to seek that engagement. Herbert had his chance two years ago and has another one now.

"I'll make that happen," Sumsion said. "It wouldn't take me three years to file that. It will take me three months."

The answer to Utah's fiscal problems lies in the shale oil, tar sands and coal fields now off-limits, he said.

"If we take the 77 oil leases that were yanked from us a few years ago (granted by the Bush administration and revoked by Obama's), it was estimated that cost the state of Utah $1 billion over 10 years," he said.

"The Kaiparowits plateau, bottom-line estimate is $1 trillion of recoverable coal down there, and basically 5 percent of that would be $50 billion over the life of the project."

While it will take time to develop those resources, Sumsion said he is so confident in his beliefs that "I would make the deal right now with the federal government: 'You give us 100 percent control of our federal lands today, we will not take another dollar from you,'aa" in funding for any programs.

"We will take care of ourselves. We have more oil in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming than they do in the Middle East."

Plus, he said, Utah has potash and rare earth that could also be developed.

Sumsion isn't a single-issue candidate, however. He said he wants to steer Utah's education system drastically away from the top-down system it has now and put all control into the hands of parents and local school districts.

"Two years ago I ran legislation that would have eliminated all the state-level line item programs and have the money follow the students to the entity they go to," whether private or public.

"And I ran that legislation because I realized that every time you're thinking about fixing education, you create another state education program, and in my experience I haven't seen the government fix anything.

"We need to come back to our conservative values in this state and let parents work with pupils."

David Kirkham

David Kirkham is a builder of classic cars who says he has already brought jobs from overseas to Utah and, as governor, would bring even more.

"I really feel like we can absolutely not cut services," he said. "I think we can do more with less, we can work them (state workers) smarter and work them better, what every good businessman does."

Kirkham, 45, owns Kirkham Manufacturing, in Provo, which makes replicas of the Cobra sports car, a 1960s classic.

He hopes to bring his expertise as a businessman to state government, and he feels Herbert is not keeping tight enough control on things.

"I'm concerned about the bonding problem right now," he said, referring to borrowing in the form of bonds the state issues for long-term projects and capital programs.

"Our bonding is quite high. It's 90 percent of the Constitutional limit, and was raised by $2 billion, more than doubled, in just the past two years."

Kirkham said he's concerned by the state's immigration amnesty law (House Bill 116), which tries to limit illegal immigration by allowing for guest workers.

"The fact is, nobody can obey the law. It's unworkable," he said. "Without a Social Security number, you can't work in the state whatever, and I talked to the governor and lieutenant governor about this."

Both, he said, agreed that the law is unworkable. "So I'm opposed to illusory promises and illusory laws."

On education, he said he is "quite disappointed that 10 percent of our students are in charter schools and 15 percent want to get in. That's about 50,000 students. That's unacceptable to me that 50,000 of our students can't get into the school they choose."

He wants to see more education control on the local level of teachers and parents.

Despite continued increases in state funding for education, Kirkham said, "none of it seems to make it into the classroom. I talk to teachers all over the state. They're very concerned that money keeps going into education, but none of it goes into the classroom."

Kirkham said he would do away with layers of expensive administration, putting more power back on the local school level.

"I'd take these decisions and gradually move them into the classroom. And when I ask the principals, they're frustrated. They want to direct the schools and curriculum, and that's directed from on high."

He wants Utah students to benefit financially by getting state control of the two-thirds of the state now controlled by the federal government.

The takeover is being billed as a boon to Utah education, but Kirkham also wants funds from those lands to benefit the taxpayers by reducing the income tax.

"I'm not talking about an offset of one-to-one," he said. "If we get $10 in oil, we're not going to cut tax rates that much. No, but you want your tax rates low to encourage business."

Utah needs to look at the revenue from those lands as a way to improve the entire state, not just education, he said.

"The thing that really drove me into politics was being in all these rural counties and seeing people lose their jobs," he said. Utah's rural counties "really, really have a hard time with unemployment. I think we can do better for all our state, not just the Wasatch Front."

Morgan Philpot

Morgan Philpot wants to be governor because he feels Utah and the other 49 states face a crisis.

"I have to think there was a time when the union saved the states and now is the time the states have to save the union" he said.

"Congress is busted and they're driving our nation into an economic pit. I believe the way to change that is to get states acting like sovereign states again."

The problem, said Philpot, 40, an attorney, former member of the Utah House of Representatives and former vice chair of the Utah GOP, is that Gov. Gary Herbert isn't up to the task.

"On every significant measure -- the budget, education and land -- Gov. Herbert is lacking."

He said Herbert "has proposed to increase our budget ... in a time when 74 percent of Utahns think spending should be frozen or reduced. We are going in the wrong direction."

On education, he said, Herbert asked for a federal waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind, but opted into a federal "common core" program that still leaves the state's education system at the mercy of federal regulators.

"It's a big issue and only now coming to light," he said.

On the issue of whether Utah should take control of the two-thirds of the state now owned by the federal government, he said "I would encourage people to talk to my opponent Ken Sumsion," who Philpot said is spearheading the fight to get state control.

"The governor has let a lot of that situation sit dormant until Sumsion declared his candidacy," Philpot said. "That's not leadership."

Philpot said he, along with so many others, is challenging Herbert because the governor has had four years to show his abilities in office and failed.

Herbert easily won election two years ago, Philpot said, because the voters and party were willing to give him a shot after taking over from Jon Huntsman.

Now, "I think we gave him a test drive and I think we want to go in a different direction," Philpot said.

That direction, he said, is drastically smaller government and less power for politicians.

"I think we can point to politicians as the source of the problem," he said. Instead of just taking the economy and governmental operations back to where they were before the recession hit, he said he wants to undo 100 years of government gradually inserting itself in the economy.

"I think the public is saying 'No, status quo is what got us here.'aa"

Increasing federal involvement has come with strings as well as money, he said, and Utah needs to wean itself off those strings.

For example, Utah's Medicaid costs are steadily rising, and while the federal government matches those funds, Utah can't control the ultimate cost. A waiver to let Utah run the program its own way was denied.

One way to control costs is to "take out illegal immigrants and the money they get on Medicaid," Philpot said.

He wants to let local schools and parents determine education policies, he said, and advocates "backpack" funding, in which state funds for education go with a child to whatever school that child goes to.

Ultimately, he said, government needs to be cut way back everywhere.

"To me, the most important thing I can do as governor is start to get government out of the economy and let it become healthy again."

Other candidates

Also competing for the party's nomination for governor are:

* William Skokos, Salt Lake City, Chairman and CEO of Standard American Oil Company, Sandy.

* Lane Ronnow, St. George, who is retired but whose website lists him as a former director of Salt Lake County Building and Zoning.

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