ABU Education Fund Releases Rural Redistricting Report

ABU Education Fund Releases Rural Redistricting Report

Today, the ABU Education Fund released a report focused on the impacts of gerrymandering on rural Utah. The report, titled “Fair Redistricting: A Better Deal for Rural Utah,” outlines the recent history of redistricting in Utah, explains the reasoning behind our four rural-urban mixed districts, and explores the ways in which rural-urban mixed districts disadvantage rural Utahns.

2018 general election debate series announced

2018 general election debate series announced

This article originally appeared in Utah Policy

The ABU Education Fund and the University of Utah’s John R. Park Debate Society will host a series of three general election debates this fall. The debates will be for S.D. 8, H.D. 8, and H.D. 32.

The ABU Education Fund and the John R. Park Debate Society have teamed up for the past four years to offer debates in races for the Utah Legislature, State School Board, and last year’s 3rd Congressional District special election. The League of Women Voters of Utah is a community partner in hosting these debates.

While the ABU Education Fund is the logistics organizer for the debates, all matters relating to format, substance, and moderation of the debates are controlled exclusively by the John R. Park Debate Society.

Doors will open at 6:45PM, debates will begin at 7:00PM. There will be an opportunity to meet the candidates following the debates.

What: 2018 General Election Debates
Who: ABU Education Fund, John R. Park Debate Society

Senate District 8
September 18
7:00 – 8:30 PM
Longview Elementary
6240 S. Longview Dr.,
Murray, UT 84107
Brian Zehnder
Kathleen Riebe
House District 32
September 19
7:00 – 8:30 PM
Lone Peak Elementary
11515 High Mesa Dr.,
Sandy, UT 84092
Suzanne Harrison
Brad Bonham
Bjorn Jones
House District 8
October 3
7:00 – 8:30 PM
Orion Junior High
370 W. 2000 N St.,
Harrisville, UT 84414
Deana Froerer
Steve Waldrip

The above links direct to the Facebook events hosted on the ABU Education Fund Facebook page.

In addition to these debates, we worked to host additional debates featuring candidates for two of Utah’s Congressional seats but were unable to secure final agreements for those events. We are disappointed that constituents in the districts represented by Representative Stewart and Representative Love won’t have more opportunities to hear from their current and future representatives. We hope that voters do take advantage of participating in the other events to which those representatives have agreed. In anticipation of the 2020 election cycle, we will be developing a broader network of community partners to aid us in helping bring more events like these to fruition.

More information on these debates can be found here. More debates will be announced soon.

ABU Education Fund announces 2018 primary debates

ABU Education Fund announces 2018 primary debates

This article originally appeared at KUTV 2News (Link)

(KUTV) – The ABU Education Fund announced two Democratic primary debates in Salt Lake City and a Republican primary in Wasatch County for its 2018 Debate Series on May 11.

The ABU Education Fund will be partnering with the University of Utah’s John R. Park Debate Society in hosting the majority of this year’s debates. The two organizations have teamed up for the past four years to offer debates in races for the Utah Legislature, State School Board and last year’s 3rd Congressional District special election.

The Democratic Primary Debates will be held on May 29 and May 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City.

The Wasatch County Attorney Republican Primary Debate will be held on June 5 at 6:30 p.m. the Wasatch County Senior Citizens Center in Heber.

For more information, please visit betterutah.org

‘Specter of Trump’ hangs over 3rd Congressional District debate

‘Specter of Trump’ hangs over 3rd Congressional District debate

This article originally appeared at the Deseret News (Link)

SANDY — President Donald Trump may not have been mentioned much during a debate Friday among four of the candidates seeking to fill the vacant 3rd District seat in Congress, but he still may have had an impact.

Both Democrat Kathie Allen and the new United Utah Party’s Jim Bennett brought up the controversial GOP leader several times during the 90-minute debate as a reminder that the Republican in the race, John Curtis, supports the Trump agenda.

The debate, sponsored by the ABU Education Fund and the University of Utah’s John R. Park Debate Society, also included Libertarian Joe Buchman. It was held in the Eastmont Middle School auditorium and attracted several hundred people.

Curtis avoided talking about Trump, instead focusing on the successes he’s had as mayor of Provo and even referring to a fifth-grade report card that chided him for talking too much.

“Look at my record,” said the frontrunner in the district that’s considered one of the most Republican in the country, pledging to continue building unity if elected. “It begins with valuing other people’s opinions.”

Allen, a Cottonwood Heights physician, made a point of saying she is a Democrat and stands for compassion, community and cooperation. But she said she would be tough on Trump even if other Democrats in Congress aren’t.

“We haven’t talked a lot tonight about Donald Trump. But he needs to be stood up to and I’m ready to do that. I’m ready to call him out for lying, for his racist tendencies, his sexist tendencies, for his xenophobia,” Allen said.

Earlier in the debate, she referred to a tweet she’d sent out this week with side-by-side pictures of the white nationalists toting tiki torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Statute of Liberty, telling Curtis to “Pick a torch.”

Curtis’ campaign responded by saying Allen was insinuating that he was a white supremacist, “a ridiculous charge and a new level of desperation.” Curtis did not talk about the tweet during Friday’s debate.

Afterward, Curtis told reporters it wasn’t his place to “clean that up. Trump has distractions. That’s a distraction. If anybody can’t see the hypocrisy of criticizing Donald Trump for that and then doing it themselves, I don’t need to point that out.”

Another recent campaign controversy also came up Friday: a Curtis ad on Facebook urging support for building the wall sought by Trump along the U.S. border with Mexico. Curtis pulled the ad and apologized.

Bennett, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, said people “exploded in outrage” over the ad, especially coming from a candidate they saw as more moderate than the president.

Curtis took one of the few swings of the evening, saying too many politicians “do what Mr. Bennett has just done, which is poke and prod for divisiveness” rather than look for better ideas on immigration, including improving border security.

Post-debate, Bennett said “the specter of Trump was hanging over everything that was said. The fact that John Curtis says he supports the Trump agenda and then tries to distance himself from the specifics … is increasingly frustrating.”

He said there’s no way to separate how Utahns feel about Trump from the election. Although the president won Utah with 45 percent of the vote, it was his lowest margin of victory in the 2016 presidential race.

Allen said after the debate Trump is a focus because the GOP has not “demonstrated any ability at all to hold him accountable.” She said sending another Republican to Congress won’t make a difference, “no matter what a great guy he is.”

Curtis told reporters that when he says he supports the Trump agenda, “I’m talking about solving health care. I’m talking about solving immigration. I’m talking about tax reform.”

He said those are the issues he’s hearing from voters in the 3rd District, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties as well as Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.

“The don’t say Trump and they don’t say (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi,” Curtis said.

Asked by reporters about Trump’s new executive order ending health care subsidies available under the Affordable Care Act better known as Obamacare, Curtis said that’s the president’s style.

“That’s a little bit of the way he negotiates and does things, right. He’s going to force Congress to do (its) job,” Curtis said. He said Congress “should be the ones embarrassed” by the failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

He also said difficulties in Washington, D.C., were nothing new.

“I don’t care who your president was. I don’t care what all the agendas are,” Curtis said. “It’s been far worse than this multiple times. We’ll work through this. That’s why we need to send people back there who are going to work hard.”

Buchman, who is lagging in the polls behind the other three, used his invitation to participate in the debate to talk about libertarian ideals, including freedom from government interference in people’s lives.

The special election for the remaining year of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s term in Congress is Nov. 7. There are eight candidates vying to replace Chaffetz, who resigned June 30 and is now a Fox News contributor.

Two debates to be held featuring 3rd Congressional District candidates

Two debates to be held featuring 3rd Congressional District candidates

This article originally appeared in The Daily Herald (Link)

Oct 9, 2017

With elections just over a month away, Utah residents will have two opportunities to hear candidates for the open 3rd Congressional District seat make their case.

Two formal debates will be held. The first, put on by the ABU Education Fund and the John R. Park Debate Society, will take place at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Eastmont Middle School auditorium in Sandy.

The top four polling candidates have been invited to participate, according to a press release: Republican John Curtis, Democrat Kathie Allen, United Utahn Jim Bennett and Libertarian Joe Buchman.

Each candidate will get a 3-minute introduction followed by approximately an hour of responses/rebuttal following moderator questions.

Those who wish to attend must register for tickets, which can be done at betterutah.org/cd3debate.

The second debate, sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission, will be held at Brigham Young University’s KBYU Studios from 6 to 7 p.m. Oct. 18, and will be hosted by David Magleby.

People who wish to attend this event in person can register for tickets at http://bit.ly/2y5J41W.Three candidates cleared the threshold for participating in that debate — Allen, Bennett and Curtis.

Questions can be submitted for this debate by visiting utahdebatecommission.org. The deadline for submitting questions is noon Friday.

Katie England covers politics, the environment and courts for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.
Report: Utah’s coal industry fading while more eco-friendly outdoor recreation surges

Report: Utah’s coal industry fading while more eco-friendly outdoor recreation surges

This article originally appeared at The Salt Lake Tribune (Link)

By Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune

Nearly $400 billion worth of high-quality coal lies under lands protected by the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, but the best thing for Utah would be to leave this black bounty where it is ­— in favor of embracing cleaner energy sources and outdoor recreation, both of which abound in the Beehive State.

So says a new report from the group Alliance for a Better Utah that highlights the coal industry’s ever-dimming future and rising prospects of eco-based tourism.

“Outdoor recreation provides 76 times as many jobs in Utah as coal — 122,000 versus 1,600 — and 27 times as much in salary and wages — $3.6 billion versus $132.8 million,” said Jonathan Ruga, an Alliance for a Better Utah board member.

The ABU Education Fund released the report on behalf of the progressive-leaning alliance on Tuesday, entitled “Moving Forward,” in advance of the final Outdoor Retailer summer show in Salt Lake City this week. After a 20-year run, the outdoor industry pulled its twice-a-year convention from the Salt Palace in protest of Utah’s public lands policies that favor extraction over all other uses.

The Utah governor’s office did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment, but officials have previously emphasized that prospects for Utah’s famously low-sulfur coal could be revived through exports and technologies that clean up coal emissions and find new applications for the mineral.

Compiled by alliance volunteer Doris Schmidt, the new report taps economic data from Utah and federal agencies and a recent three-part report by the nonprofit Utah Foundation.

The document lists a litany of grim statistics for coal that are not new, but rather cast a new light on Utah’s official call to shrink the Staircase monument to exclude the coal-bearing Kaiparowits Plateau.

Nationally, 50 coal producers have gone bankrupt since 2012, while just six of the Utah mines operating in 2001 remain active today. Utah coal production is at its lowest since 1978 and coal employment has plunged 28 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to the report.

Opening the Kaiparowits would hardly reverse or even slow the industry’s decline, which has more to do with technological innovation and market forces than government policies and regulations.

“Coal extraction from beneath Grand Staircase would be logistically difficult at best, and very expensive, as the area is remote and the current infrastructure is inadequate to extract and transport coal,” said Ruga, an executive of a Salt Lake City financial firm. “The decline of our nation’s and our state’s coal industry creates significant challenges for those who make their living in that industry. We must take reasonable steps to address those economic challenges.”

The Grand Staircase, as well as Utah’s new Bears Ears National Monument, are among 27 large monuments under “review” by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is to release recommendations in late August. He is expected to urge President Donald Trump to drastically “right size” the two Utah monuments, which state officials contend are way too large and strangle local economies.

But many business owners in Kane and Garfield counties say the 1.9-million Staircase has been on balance an economic driver, not a drag. Shrinking the monument could have devastating consequences for towns rimming the monument, according to Suzanne Catlett, president of the Escalante and Boulder Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber member businesses are enjoying another banner year. If anything, Escalante is suffering from a housing shortage because of an influx of workers coming to the historic ranching town to fill jobs with new and growing restaurants, contracting firm and hotels, according to Ron Johnson, owner of the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch.

“They are having revenue days higher than ever, for that we thank the outdoor recreation industry and visitors, said Catlett, who has operated Nemo’s Drive Thru for the past six years. She is dismayed that county and state leaders routinely ignore substantiated facts as they repeat calls for monument reduction and denigrate tourism as a base for a viable economic future.

“An industry that steadily increases revenue each year is the industry to invest in. For a rural county with strapped budgets, why invest in a coal venture that would likely end in bankruptcy or not be profitable in the first place?” said Catlett, who is a mother of two sons in college studying toward degrees geared toward resource stewardship and solar engineering.

“These young men are not sitting waiting for times to change or for a job to fall in their lap,” she said. “Self-reliance, planning and accepting the fact act we can’t return to 1996 [the year the Staircase was designated] is a healthy way to move forward.”

Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake TribuneBrian Maffly can be reached at bmaffly@sltrib.com or 801-257-8713.

Twitter: @brianmaffly

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misrepresented Jonathan Ruga’s quote about how many jobs — 122,000 — outdoor recreation provides in Utah.

You can read “Moving Forward: Utah’s Future Beyond Coal” here.

Moving Forward: Utah’s Future Beyond Coal

In the midst of Utah’s public lands madness, much of our leaders’ rhetoric claims public lands are good for the soul, but not for the economy. Better Utah’s super volunteer, Doris Schmidt, did some extensive research and wrote up a report challenging this narrative and demonstrating just how good public lands are for our economy.

Read the report here!

Doris found that safeguarding the environment has proven to be a singularly effective way to create jobs in Utah. Our large and growing outdoor-recreation economy dwarfs the declining coal industry, although coal is most often proposed as a way to grow jobs on public lands. The outdoor recreation economy extends beyond tourism to include manufacturing, marketing, gear sales, vehicles, equipment, and clothing used in outdoor activities. It draws new businesses to Utah in a pattern of growth that has outperformed most other job sectors.

The coal industry, in contrast, has suffered a decades-long decline with decreases in demand, the rise of alternative fuels including natural gas, and lower employment as automation replaces workers. Proposals to mine coal that lies under the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument cannot solve the fact that demand, not supply, for coal is dwindling.

However, the decline of coal does not have to mean the demise of hope for Utah’s “coal country,” however, as the transition from a coal-based economy presents a variety of opportunities for the region. Variety is the key, with diversified economies offering the greatest stability. Solar energy is likely to be part of that mix; with Utah ranked No. 2 in the nation for solar capacity installed per capita and No. 6 for total solar capacity installed, the solar industry created more new jobs in the state in 2016 than the total employed by coal.

The land itself stands as the region’s greatest economic asset, with its abundant beauty and seemingly limitless potential for outdoor recreation. Safeguarding that beauty, and maximizing the economic potential of outdoor recreation – including the goods and services that support it – can only benefit the quality of life and economic growth that bring Utah long-term prosperity.

Read the report here!

Op-ed: We are Democrats because we are Mormon, and you can be, too

Op-ed: We are Democrats because we are Mormon, and you can be, too

This Op-Ed was originally published at The Salt Lake Tribune (Link)

By Brian King and Suzanne Harrison

As we pull into the home stretch of a brutal presidential election, Mormons in Utah are wondering whether anyone in politics reflect their values. While Republicans have traditionally relied on Mormons as some of their most reliable religious supporters, this cycle has seen that party champion a man who passionately opposes almost everything Mormons hold dear. The Utah Republican Party, placed in the unenviable position of either opposing their party’s nominee or opposing their state’s values, has decided on their party. The GOP seems to be going out of its way to alienate Mormons.

Under these surprising circumstances, the two of us recently participated in a public forum about our faith and our politics. The event, organized by the ABU Education Fund and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, provided us each an opportunity to explain how our profound faith in the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has led us to the Democratic Party.

We are living in a state with one of the worst education systems — adjusted for demographics — in the nation. Our teachers are given some of the very biggest classes and then provided fewer resources per-pupil than almost anywhere else in the country. We hold sacred the words criticizing a society that distinguished people “according to their riches and their chances for learning.”

This prophetic author describes the effects of such a misguided system: “some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Nephi 6:12). This rings true to us on a spiritual level. As Mormons, we believe that helping children should rank much higher on our state’s list of priorities.

Similarly, Utah’s air quality is so bad that our children often can’t go outside for recess. The toxins in our air can cause asthma, cancer, pregnancy complications and, in some cases, even death. One recent estimate suggests that the deaths of hundreds of Utahns per year can be directly attributed to our criminally dirty air.

Our Mormon faith urges us to be wise stewards of the environment — not just because we’ll breathe toxins if we don’t, but also because, in the words of an official church website, “making the earth ugly offends [God].” Caring for creation shows respect for its Creator. It’s as simple as that.

These are just two of the issues that matter to us. We are Democrats because we are Mormon. We invite you to take another look at what we stand for. There is room for you here.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, is House Minority Leader. Dr. Suzanne Harrison is the Democratic candidate for House District 32 in Sandy.

Utah lawmakers discuss crossing of Mormon faith, politics

Utah lawmakers discuss crossing of Mormon faith, politics

This article originally appeared at The Salt Lake Tribune (Link)

By Michelle L. Price | The Associated Press

Several Mormons who serve as state lawmakers said Monday that their church has a subtle influence on Utah politics but is selective about directly weighing in on issues.

Three Mormon legislators participating in a discussion about faith and politics late Monday afternoon at the University of Utah said they’ve never been contacted by church leaders about how to vote on legislation and have at times cast votes that countered the official stance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monday’s discussion, involving two Democrats and two Republicans, was part of a broad talk about their faith and how it aligns or contrasts with their politics and influences their decisions.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the church is clearly a significant presence in the state, where more than half of the residents and most lawmakers are members of the faith.

“To think that that’s not going to exist is just naive,” he said of the church influence. “It does exist, but it doesn’t play itself out, in my experience, in a very direct way.”

Church policy is to remain neutral on party politics, platforms and candidates and to not direct members how to vote.

In an official statement about its politics, the LDS Church says it reserves the right to express its views on issues that have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect church interests. The church states that it communicates its views to elected officials who are members, as they would any other elected officials, but that politicians must make their own choices.

Mormon Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said that in his five years as a lawmaker, he has been contacted by church lobbyists on legislation related to alcohol, adoption and gambling. “In my experience, the church is hands off in 99 percent of the bills that we handle,” he said.

It makes sense for the church to weigh in on some Utah policy matters like other stakeholders, Weiler said, because the church employs many people and owns a large sum of land in the state.

Two lawmakers who didn’t serve on Monday’s panel publicly criticized the church earlier this year, saying the faith’s opposition steamrolled their proposals on medical marijuana and hate-crimes protections for LGBT people.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said Monday that he differed from his church on the medical marijuana bill and felt no inner conflict about supporting the measure.

When church lobbyists weigh in on legislation, Stephenson said, he considers their perspective, “but I don’t vote carte blanche because of it.”

Monday’s panel discussion was organized by the ABU Education Fund, an affiliate of the left-leaning group Alliance for a Better Utah.