2020 election: Utah governor’s race — candidates, issues, key dates and debates

2020 election: Utah governor’s race — candidates, issues, key dates and debates

(Kristin Murphy, KSL, File)



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SALT LAKE CITY — With Utah Gov. Gary Herbert deciding not to run for a third term, the state will have a new chief executive for the first time since 2009. What began as a wide-open race likely focused on strengthening Utah's economic standing now pivots to who is best poised to lead the state's response to and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Widespread civic upheaval over racial inequalities has also moved to the foreground.

The field

Third-party candidates

Write-in candidates

The latest

What's next

  • Election Day: Nov. 3

Key issues

Utah's coronavirus response: The biggest curveball for political campaigning is one that none of these candidates could have been prepared for when they entered the race and will affect every other area of policy up for debate. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox's role as leader of the state's coronavirus response task force gives him greater visibility but also opens him to criticism from other candidates over the state's response. Meanwhile, mask-wearing has become a political question of its own as some local governments move to mandate them while others view that as governmental overreach.

The candidates on: the coronavirus

  • Cox: “We do have to take responsibility for the mistakes that we make. And that’s why we have these types of conversations. We’ve been very clear about that, that this has not been a perfect response, that we’re figuring this out as we go. We’re taking the best advice that we can get. When we get better information, when we get new information, we have to be willing to pivot and to make those changes."

  • Peterson: "Instead of acting within his traditional constitutional role, the Lieutenant Governor has crossed out of his lane and usurped the function of the Department of Health. Since then we have seen the state’s COVID response hijacked by unproven and ineffective treatments, defective cell phone software, testing delays, and insufficient protective equipment for vulnerable frontline workers."

Protests for racial equity and police reform: The death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police set off weeks of protests across the country, including Utah. Police shootings hit close to home later this summer with the death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal and the shooting of Linden Cameron. An incoming governor will be asked how they would respond to the protests and how they intend to improve police tactics and address racial inequalities in the state.

The candidates on: racial justice

  • Cox: "I will never know what it's like to be a Hispanic man or a Black man here in Utah. I can't have that experience. But what I do believe is that if we get proximate, if we get close, if we listen to each other, we can learn from each other. We can start to see the world through someone else's eyes, and that allows us to make improvements. It allows us to change government, and it allows us to make sure that we aren't negatively impacting anyone. We believe in equal opportunity, but we have to work for that equal opportunity."
  • Peterson: "I do believe that it is one of the great challenges of our time. Across the country and here in Utah, we have a lot of hurt feelings and struggle that’s going on right now. ... I see you and I care about you. Your lives matter to me. And if I’m elected governor, I’m going to be in your corner and fighting for you. I want you to know that."

Economic development: Salvaging Utah's economy from the ravages of a global pandemic that has caused massive workforce disruptions will be a key point for each candidate, despite the state's traditional high rankings in economic indicators.

The candidates on: the economy

  • Cox: "When we look at recovery, we don't want to recover to where we were; we want to recover to something better. And Utah is the best-positioned state in the nation for that long-term recovery. ... There's a couple areas that I think we really need to focus on, and one is manufacturing. ... Because of what's been happening in Utah, what's been happening with our economy over the past 10 years, the best-performing economy in the country over that time and the most diverse economy in the country over the past 10 years, we are well-situated to take advantage of that manufacturing coming back here, with the Inland Port and other opportunities we've been working on."
  • Peterson: "We've got to grow back better than we were before, and try to build a vibrant economy for the future that's competitive and takes care of people in a broad way. Some steps that I think we should be looking to: Right now, interest rates are at rock-bottom level. There's a real incentive, I think, for the state to consider bonding for shovel-ready infrastructure projects, things like development of rural broadband."

Air quality: Improving air quality in the Salt Lake Valley and the state while moving forward on the controversial inland port, which activists believe will exacerbate the problem.

The candidates on: air quality

  • Cox: "This is no longer a partisan issue. It's a health issue, it's a Utah issue, it's an 'us' issue. We have a bipartisan clean air caucus in the Legislature, which is doing amazing work. ... This is one of the defining issues of the next 10 years in our state. Do we get this right, and who's the person who can do that?"
  • Peterson: "I believe we need to incentivize not just residential rooftop solar, we also need to have rooftop solar in our businesses and also in our government buildings. We have a lot of public schools, we have a lot of warehouses, especially in Salt Lake County, that have enormous, pristine roofs. … Each one could be solar-powered facilities. And we should be transitioning to make sure that we’re taking advantage of that valuable space that’s connected to our grid already.”

Federal land issues: Partisan battles over local control versus federal protection have grown in the past several years, especially after the designation and then shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument.

The candidates' websites on: public lands

  • Cox: "Today’s D.C.-based, top-down management approach fails to adequately reflect the views and input of the people who actually live here. Spencer supports a re-examination of policy to ensure our lands are managed responsibly and that the interests of all stakeholders are considered fairly."
  • Peterson: "Our national and state parks, forests, and wilderness areas are a heritage we should preserve for all."

Education: Lawmakers promised historic investment into state education funding during the 2020 Legislative session, but the coronavirus pandemic is threatening those resources. Meanwhile, lawmakers are seeking a constitutional amendment to gain more flexibility in spending money that was previously designated solely for education.

The candidates on: education

  • Cox: "We're not paying our teachers enough. We have to do more there to make sure that being a teacher is a destination occupation, not just a filler occupation."
  • Peterson: "I think we all know that Utah has, for decades, had the lowest per-pupil funding for our public school systems in America. ... That's not good enough. We have to overcome that challenge and rise to the occasion. How can we do that? We've got to get the funding into those schools that we need."

Key dates/developments

Eliminated from the race

  • Jeff Burningham (R), Jason Christensen (R), Jan Garbett (R), Neil Hansen (D), Greg Hughes (R), Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), Ryan D. Jackson (D), Zachary Moses (D), Nikki Pino (D), Kevin Probasco (D), Aimee Winder Newton (R), Thomas Wright (R)

Lieutenant governor picks

Watch the debates and forums

Before the Republican primary, the GOP candidates participated in many debates. For events involving the final two major candidates, Peterson and Cox, check out the April 29 Envision Utah forum and the Sept. 24 Salt Lake Chamber forum.

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