The election season of 2012 is underway. Nationally, GOP candidates have engaged in the first of many debates to come. Locally, the fight for the Senate seat held for many years by Orrin Hatch is also beginning to heat up.

Who will challenge Senator Hatch in the 2012 elections? Several names have emerged, but the most likely candidate is two-term Congressman, Jason Chaffetz. Perhaps best known for sleeping on a cot to save money and opposing full-body TSA scanners, Chaffetz has accomplished a surprising amount during his tenure in Washington. He also has a strong base amongst Tea Party conservatives -- a demographic which poses a potential threat to the incumbent Senator Hatch.

Senator Hatch was first elected to the Senate in 1976. Since that time, his rare analytical abilities and refreshing willingness to engage in bipartisan legislation have combined to make Senator Hatch an incredibly effective Senator -- and one who grows increasingly powerful in his ability to do good for the state of Utah as time goes on. But with every election, there invariably comes a challenger.

Although Chaffetz has yet to formally announce his candidacy, he has engaged in a series of rhetorical battles with Senator Hatch which suggests he fully intends to run for Senate. Unfortunately, the back-and-forth between the two men has been less than civil. While Chaffetz calls his relationship with Hatch "dysfunctional" and refers to the Senator as "very immature," Hatch accuses the Congressman of falling short of his potential since his sights have been set on "running for Senate from day one." The barbs between the two accomplished men are uncomfortable to witness, yet they are also reminiscent of a dark moment in Utah politics.

It was only last year that Senator Bob Bennett lost his reelection campaign before even making it to a general election. His replacement is the very capable Mike Lee, a man with a storied history, a remarkable legal mind, and Jimmy Stewart-like passion. Yet despite Senator Bennett's past accomplishments for the state of Utah and the future potential of Senator Lee, the primary campaign of 2010 was referred to (with some legitimacy) as "the nastiest race that we have had for a party nomination in the history of the state of Utah for a statewide office."

Sadly, the beginnings of the rhetoric between Senator Hatch and Congressman Chaffetz are all-too reminiscent of the negative aspects of Utah's last Senate race. In all honesty, such remarks are beneath both men and are unworthy of the constituents they serve.

Both legislators would do well to raise the level of civility in their discussions and debates. We live in a season of extreme partisanship where individuals and groups place derogatory -- and unfair -- labels on those with whom they disagree. And more often than not, the candidate willing to stoop the lowest secures the greatest odds of electoral victory. This is not good for our country -- or for Utah.

I don't know who I will vote for next year. I'm not even completely sure who will be running when all is said and done. But I do know that I will be paying careful attention to the candidates, their stances on critical issues, and the dignity -- or lack thereof -- with which they manage their campaigns.

The 2012 election will demonstrate whether those who seek to represent us learned from the disgraceful events of the 2010 election -- or are committed to repeating them. Utahns deserve a Senator who is capable of persuading others not through mean-spirited incivility, but finely-honed diplomacy. The question thus becomes: who will rise to the occasion?

Kurt Manwaring is pursuing a graduate degree in public administration at the University of Utah. He resides in Taylorsville.