The Park City Young Professionals, an organization focused on business networking and community activism for those under 40, held a Candidates' Forum Tuesday night. The event was open to members and the community, where they were invited to ask candidates for Summit County Council and the Utah House of Representatives District 54 the big questions before entering the voting polls this November.
"Last year we had a forum just for members and we did have a lot of people show up," said Maren Mullin, a PCYP founder and owner of Gallery Mar, "but we decided to open this event up to the community. We, as an organization, want to help educate on the issues."
A mixed crowd filled the seats of a Treasure Mountain Inn conference room, a split between members of PCYP trying to learn more and others who have been following the candidates from event to event. For a number of PCYP members, Tuesday night was their first time attending a political event in Park City.
"I've been in Park City for two years now and it's time for me to get a better grasp of the issues and what's going on," said Sarah Baldwin, a local web developer and member of PCYP. "In general, it was good to get an idea of what the issues are, what the concerns in the community are. Now I can go forward and form an opinion."
A uniting theme for both the state and county candidates came up in questions fielded from the crowd: education.
In their first face-off, Rep. Kraig Powell (R-Heber), and incumbent Chris Robinson (D-Coalville) addressed the crowd. The two are running for the State House of Representatives District 54, an area that covers Park City proper, a portion of Wasatch County and part of the Snyderville Basin.
Powell pointed to his record at the Utah Legislature, his work on improving and funding the education system and his most recently drafted bill to increase wildfire funding.
"The reason I ran for the Legislature is because of my passion for public education," Powell said. " Usually, what I'm doing is fending off attacks against education in the Legislature."
"I'm the only representative in the Utah House of Representatives who does not take money from special interests, lobbyists or corporations who go to the Legislature I'd like my constituents to trust me."
Questions ranged from how Summit County taxes are used for schools throughout the state to how the county could grow economically diverse jobs and how to best preserve the snowpack. In several cases, the two candidates explained how specific laws work, how bonds are distributed, why the tax code works the way it does and what industries are best suited to the local economy.
"I find issues that I think I can make a difference on, and then I try to bring the stakeholders together," Robinson said. "I dislike labels or following party banners. Instead, I like to focus on what we have in common."
"I have a passion for the land," he added, noting his two decades serving as a board member on the Nature Conservancy. "I have a serious understanding of water issues and in a high desert that's important because it makes the difference between worthless land and precious land like we have here."
The six Summit County Council candidates followed Powell and Robinson. Answering questions on SkiLink, issues related to baby boomers, county manager powers and affordable housing, the candidates bantered with the crowd and discuss County Council powers. And the audience was taking stock, trying to determine who each person was as a potential community leader.
"I wanted to see how the candidates would interact with one another and what kinds of questions are on the community's mind," said Bruce Margolius, a Kamas resident for the past 25 years.
Margolius said he already had a good idea of who he planned to vote for in November, but the younger members of the audience were holding final judgment.
"I believe I am not educated enough yet to make an informed decision," said Bryan Markkanen, another PCYP member. "I wanted to know who I was voting for. I got to meet the candidates, see who they were and what their viewpoints are. You can learn a lot by reading and investigating on your own, but you don't get to see their personalities by reading about them. It was good to just see them talking, see those attitudes and emotions on different issues."
The County Council candidates are Summit County Council Roger Armstrong (D) and Max Greenhalgh (R) for Seat A, Claudia McMullin (D) and Suzanne Pollard (R) for Seat B and Kim Carson (D) and Duane Schmidt (R) for Seat C.