The two candidates running to represent Utah House District 54 both outlined what their priorities would be if elected to state office, including improving air quality along the Wasatch Front and increasing funding for teachers statewide, during a debate this week.
HD 54, which borders Utah County and covers parts of Wasatch County, including Park City, Heber City and the area surrounding Deer Creek Reservoir, is currently represented by Republican Rep. Tim Quinn, who did not run for re-election.
During a debate on Monday, hosted by the Better Utah Institute and the League of Women Voters of Utah, Mike Kohler, a former Wasatch County Councilmember and the Republican candidate in the race, said he would “support increased funding on a limited basis” and using “other methods to find (additional) funding” for public education.
“I would say two things: Number one is we are last in per-pupil spending, but we are not last in the amount of tax base that we put into students,” said Kohler. “We also have terrific teachers that over-serve, if you will, but they certainly overachieve and do a great job.”
Kohler, who said he has been a lobbyist for the agriculture industry for 15 years, continued that the Utah State Legislature “in the past several years has increased (education) funding virtually every year (and are) trying to do their best, but they’re not going to push it so far that it puts the state in jeopardy, either in (the) tax base or in funding for the programs they need.”
Democratic candidate Meaghan Miller, who ran in 2018 and narrowly lost to Quinn, according to KPCW, said she supported increasing teacher compensation, noting that “early childhood education is paramount in equitable outcomes for students.”
“The skills and developmental stage that preschoolers are in is just such a critical time when it comes to grasping knowledge and being set up for the future,” said Miller, who is executive director of the nonprofit EATS Park City.
While Miller acknowledged that teacher salary is dealt with at the school district level, she said lawmakers could be supportive by pushing “forward-thinking technology options for students who choose an alternative path and looking at the holistic child, looking at the child as a whole and what their needs are.”
When asked about how to improve air quality and promote clean energy, Miller pointed out that approximately half of harmful emissions statewide come from cars, and therefore improving public transit would play a critical role.
“So looking at more walkable communities, supporting forward-thinking ideas to minimize the need for traffic, increasing a robust transportation system,” she said.
Kohler agreed that walkable communities were a “great idea” but added that they wouldn’t “serve the vast community” and other measures would be needed, such as incentivizing clean energy.
“In most cases, I would support ways to clean up our air that are market-driven,” Kohler said. “I wouldn’t support something that would impose something that’s a hardship on small businesses, but we need to do practical things to incentivize less driving and cleaner fuels. And we’re working on that.”
On the subject of police reform in the wake of nationwide protests over police shootings, both candidates said they believed local law enforcement agencies needed more, not less, funding.
“I do not support defunding the police, I’ll tell you that right now,” said Kohler. “I think those cities that have done that are sending the wrong message. Certainly better training is involved (in police reform).”
Miller added that officials “need to get groups together that have differing opinions to sit down and have a conversation” about police reform.
“Because at the end of the day, we want the same things,” Miller said. “We want our law enforcement there when we need them, we want people to feel safe and we want people to be able to use law enforcement as a resource and to not be scared of them.”
The full debate between Miller and Kohler can be viewed at http://www.facebook.com/betterutah.