1. Please describe your background and what has prepared you to serve in the elected office you seek?
If you are someone who doesn't usually vote for Republicans, let me try to convince you why this is one election in which you should choose this particular Republican to represent Summit County in the Legislature. Many people like you and I decry the business-as-usual of the Republican-dominated Legislature: Campaign contributions from corporations and lobbyists. Closed-door caucuses. Extreme ideological agendas. As an outspoken reformer within the Republican caucus of the Legislature, I am having a huge impact on the way our state does business. I have challenged my fellow legislators to adopt my stance as the only member of the House of Representatives who does not accept campaign contributions from lobbyists, special interest groups or corporations.
And the results are telling. Citizen trust has increased. Our caucus stopped meeting in secret. And extreme bills are being vetoed. A 2012 study found that I am the only Utah legislator as likely to vote with Democrats as Republicans. I hold a Ph.D. in Government from the University of Virginia. And I am making a difference for you. Why send me home now?
2. Earlier this year the Utah Legislature approved S.B. 64, a measure that ties teachers' compensation to their students' performance. Do you support that concept, why or why not? Also, do you feel that the Legislature does or does not do enough to support funding for education?
I supported and voted for Senate Bill 64 in the House of Representatives. This bill is an example of how the legislative process works at its best. No one wants unsatisfactory teachers to continue in their positions and receive raises. But, like most significant legislation, formulating a process for teacher evaluation that actually produces the results desired, and that is fair and not arbitrary for teachers, is a complex and difficult task. Sen. Aaron Osmond met for months to win the support of all groups who are interested in and affected by this legislation, in order to receive crucial information, balance competing perspectives, and avoid harmful, unintended consequences. I also appreciate that the bill requires evaluation and consequences for administrators as well as for teachers. Because Utah ranks dead-last in spending per pupil, I consistently support additional education funding and keeping local tax dollars in the local school district.
3. Do you believe state agencies are too lax or too stringent about enforcing air and water quality standards? If elected would you advocate more or less regulation of industrial emissions?
Although many citizens do not realize it, Utah is one of the most heavily-urbanized states in the country. This means that amid our towering mountains and vast stretches of desert, we experience many of the same pollution problems as our nation's largest cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta. Utah's rapid growth in the past few decades demands that the legislature, state agencies and ultimately individual citizens move aggressively to clean and protect our air and water quality. Most environmental standards are set by the federal government, but Utah regulators play a huge role in determining whether the standards are met and enforced in our state. I believe that Utah government at all levels needs to increase regulation and enforcement of harmful emissions. One important safeguard in this effort is refusing campaign contributions from industry. It is my policy to reject any donations from corporations or lobbyists.
4. The Utah Legislature has tried to address ethics reform, including measures to ensure lawmakers are not unduly influenced by contributors. Do you think those efforts have been adequate or do you think additional ethics reform is necessary? Also, what is your personal policy regarding campaign contributions?
Beginning with my initial election to the Utah House of Representatives in 2008, I have made ethics reform one of my highest priorities. I supported the successful passage of new legislation that prohibits the personal use of campaign contributions, restricts gift-giving by lobbyists, and establishes an independent commission to hear and decide allegations of ethics violations by lawmakers. I have drafted and sponsored legislation to require open caucuses on Utah's Capitol Hill, and I consistently vote against motions to close legislative caucuses. I wrote and passed legislation in 2012 requiring greater disclosure of campaign spending by PACs and special interest groups. Most importantly, I am the only member of the House of Representatives, and the only candidate running in this race, who does not accept money from lobbyists, special interest groups or corporations that lobby the Legislature. I also pay for my own meals and refuse all gifts.
5. Last year, lawmakers passed House Bill 363, a Health Education Amendment that would have severely curtailed what could be taught in sex education classes. The bill was eventually vetoed by the governor. Some said the bill was representative of a trend toward more values-oriented legislation. Do you think that is a fair characterization and, if so, is that an appropriate role for state lawmakers?
House Bill 363, Health Education Amendments, was an example of how extremist groups sometimes wield undue influence in Utah's legislative process. Utah's long-standing approach to sex education, which is strictly voluntary and requires prior parental consent, seems acceptable to average Utah citizens. But several weeks into the 2012 legislative session, the Utah Eagle Forum mobilized to push this bill, which outlawed instruction about contraception and required an abstinence-only curriculum. I vigorously fought against the bill and used amendments to gut it, both in the House Education Committee and on the House floor, and I prevailed for a time, but the bill was then resurrected and passed by a narrow margin, over my strong dissent. Fortunately, thousands of citizens, including my wife and I, ultimately persuaded the governor to veto the bill. Legislation almost always embodies someone's values, but this bill did not reflect the values of most Utah citizens.
6. In its last session the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 148, the Transfer of Public Lands Act, which demands the transfer of about 20 million acres of federally owned land to the state. That land could then be sold or leased for commercial uses. Do you support or oppose that bill and why?
Approximately 45 out of 50 states have control of their own public lands, while the rest, including Utah, have a majority of the land in their state controlled by the federal government. Public land can be sold or leased to commercial interests whether it is controlled by the federal or state government. The operative question for me is whether Utah can better protect its interests with federal or state control of public lands. Federal control means that we will always be subject to the whims of distant presidents and Congresses, whether Republican or Democrat. I support the Transfer of Public Lands Act because state control of our public lands offers the opportunity for efficient and accountable management toward multiple beneficial uses, including recreation, traditional and renewable energy production, conservation, and wilderness preservation. I believe that our local officials can more responsibly and faithfully manage our public lands than federal bureaucrats.
7. Like many states, Utah has tried its hand at enacting its own immigration laws. In recent years, lawmakers have passed (and then rescinded) in-state college tuition discounts for undocumented students who attended high school in the state. They have offered and then discontinued driver permits and have debated legislation that would give local law enforcement officers the ability to determine a person's immigration status. Where do you stand on those specific issues?
Illegal immigration is one of the most complex and difficult issues I have addressed during my four years so far in the Utah Legislature. The legislation that we have considered is so lengthy and detailed that space will not allow a full and fair discussion here, but I can summarize the main provisions and my votes on them. I voted for Utah's guest worker bill, which essentially allows employers to hire undocumented workers if those workers apply for and receive a state worker permit and agree to pay taxes and obtain health insurance. I voted to allow police to check the immigration status of people stopped for another crime. I supported keeping our driving permit for undocumented immigrants and preserving in-state tuition for non-citizens who graduate from high school. I am proud that Utah has taken a lead in addressing this difficult topic which our federal officials have abdicated.
8. Please differentiate your platform from that of your opponent.
I heartily commend my opponent Chris Robinson for his service to the people of Summit County. As a member of the County Council, he plays an important role in the zoning, planning and land use decisions affecting our area. According to legal experts, if Mr. Robinson were elected to the Legislature, he would need to resign halfway through his term on the County Council in order to replace me in the Utah House. I understand that Park City, which is fabulously unique among Utah cities, may want to send a Democrat of its own liking to Utah's Capitol Hill. But in this case, Mr. Robinson has actually been a Republican for most of his life. He shares my LDS faith. His policy positions, I expect, will be largely the same as mine. As a minority Democrat at the Legislature, Mr. Robinson's influence will be limited. But as an outspoken reformer in the majority caucus and on the Education Committee, my influence is well-documented. I have embraced diversity while living outside of Utah for most of my life. Summit County can now choose to keep the best of both worlds - Robinson guiding the County Council and Powell inspiring the Legislature.