OREM, Utah (AP) -- Eight Republican gubernatorial candidates strove to differentiate themselves from the crowded pack during a televised debate Wednesday night at Utah Valley State College.
The debate, one of a series through April, drew all of the GOP candidates except Gov. Olene Walker, who was in a Canada on a trade mission.
Education, tax-reform, transportation and parental rights were among the topics of the monitored debate, but candidates offered few specifics and few diverging opinions and few comments that differed from the Republican platform.
The candidates levied no personal criticism and did not mention Walker.
Industrialist Jon Huntsman Jr. said his message involved jobs for Utah residents.
"I believe the goals and aspirations of the next generation of Utah will not be met on our current economic trajectory," he said, calling himself a "door-opener for the state."
Former Congressman Jim Hansen twice emphasized the importance of Hill Air Force Base to the state's prosperity.
"The next governor of the state will be a spokesman for Hill Air Force Base. If that goes down, we'll be a world of hurt," he said.
Asked whether they supported tax reform, many candidates criticized government inefficiency and Stephens expressed skepticism that tax reforms proposals truly were tax reforms.
"I would not be in favor of tax reforms simply as a guise for tax increases," he said.
House Speaker Marty Stevens called for a waste and efficiency commission.
Businessman Fred Lampropoulos, who called himself the "outside guy" said he supported a constitutional amendment to limit the growth of state government.
Two of the questions put to the candidates involved education, a favorite topic of Walker, but the candidates offered few specifics.
Hansen and Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert said representation on the state Board of Regents should be based on geographical areas, while many candidates, including Regents Chairman Nolan Karras said individual colleges' boards of trustees should be given more decision-making power.
Asked whether the regents should be elected, Karras said the current system, in which members are appointed by the governor, is the most efficient.
State Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem, twice suggested the state needs a governor from Utah County, which drew applause from Herbert.
On the issue of parental rights, all the candidates agreed parents and not the state should be the primary decision-makers for their children.
Hellewell said he sponsored eight parental-rights bills during the past legislative session, two of which passed, but they will not be enough to solve the whole problem of parental rights.
Herbert said that as a pro-life candidate, it would be inconsistent for him not to believe that government has some say in protecting children's lives outside the womb. He also said the parental rights problem is not as acute as many believe.
The candidates remained mostly silent when asked when it was appropriate for the state to intervene.
During the debate, political unknown Gary Benson spoke against governmental infringement on constitutional rights but did not go into specifics.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)