Aimee Winder Newton

Utah gubernatorial hopeful Aimee Winder Newton, center, speaks with students at Capstone Classical Academy in Pleasant View on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, after touring the school and addressing students. The Taylorsville Republican is one of several running for governor.

PLEASANT VIEW — Managing and preparing for growth ranks as one of the top priorities for Utah gubernatorial hopeful Aimee Winder Newton.

And she looks to the west, to California, for an example of what the state shouldn't do. "I want to ensure that Utah doesn’t become California," she said, with runaway home prices and high taxes.

Rather, she touts bringing the planning element back to the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, formerly the Office of Planning and Budget.

"Making sure that we have proper planning for growth issues is key. We need to make sure that we’re planning not just the next four years but the next 40 years as we tackle transportation, water, different infrastructure issues," she said.

Education and workforce development, to make sure future generations of Utahns have the skills Utah companies need, also ranks high for the Taylorsville Republican.

"We've got to better connect education and workforce and economic development," she said. Involving private sector operators in higher-education policy formulation, she said, will foster a better understanding of "what their needs are, what kind of workers they need, so we can tailor our education to that."

Winder Newton, in her second term as a member of the Salt Lake County Council, is one of several candidates vying to replace Gov. Gary Herbert, who's not seeking reelection. The self-described conservative Republican visited Pleasant View on Monday, touring Capstone Classical Academy and holding a town hall meeting with students and faculty at the charter school.

She fielded a wide range of questions from Capstone students on everything from nuclear power (she favors its use) to abortion (she's pro-life). Asked by the students about the negative impact social media can have on some people's psyches, homosexuality, suicide and depression, she counseled kindness and understanding. She also referenced the mental health struggles of one of her sons.

"Be nice to people. Go out of your way to treat people the way you would want to be treated," she said.

She went on, advising the students to steer clear of the drama that can flare up on social media.

"Don't get into that. Don't get into the drama... Don't be negative. Always be kind. You never know what people may be battling," she said.

'A FRESH PERSPECTIVE'

Winder Newton is in a packed field that includes Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former governor Jon Huntsman, former speaker of the Utah House Greg Hughes and Thomas Wright, former chairman of the Utah Republican Party. She's not daunted, though. Not having served in state government, like Cox, Huntsman and Hughes, she maintains that she would bring a new perspective to the office. Unlike other hopefuls without elected experience, meantime, she has policy background as a Salt Lake County Council member.

"I’m the only candidate in the race who has elected experience and knows the public policy issues, but who brings a fresh perspective to state government," she said.

Like some of the other gubernatorial hopefuls, she opposes the tax overhaul measure Utah lawmakers approved during a one-day special session last December. The public may have had input, but their views don't seem to have been incorporated into it. She singled out the controversial provision raising the reduced state sales tax on food to the full state rate, from 1.75% to 4.85%. Indeed, in addition to seeking signatures on petitions to get on the GOP gubernatorial ballot, campaign staffers were also seeking signatures on petitions to force a referendum question on the tax reform measure.

"They got a lot of feedback from the public and a lot of it wasn’t incorporated into their decision-making," she said, alluding to numerous public meetings over the summer ahead of last December's action. "If they had really listened to the public, they would understand that raising the taxes on food is something that is not supported by Utahns. It’s not in line with Utah values.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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