Candidates aiming to represent Park City on Capitol Hill spar in debate
The candidates for state House District 54 debated Tuesday night, offering opinions on issues in the local and national headlines like the Hideout annexation and police reform, and attempting to make the case just weeks before the election that they deserve to head to Capitol Hill.
Republican Mike Kohler is taking on Democrat Meaghan Miller for the seat that is currently held by Rep. Tim Quinn, who decided not to pursue another term. The district covers Wasatch County and parts of Summit County, including Park City. In 2018, Miller lost to Quinn by 162 votes, enjoying overwhelming support in Summit County but failing to secure enough votes in Republican-leaning Wasatch County.
Kohler and Miller both live in Midway.
Kohler said he is a lifelong dairyman who worked his family’s dairy farm for years until selling his share to his brother a decade ago and lobbying on behalf of the industry at the Statehouse.
Miller is the executive director of EATS Park City, a nonprofit focusing on nutrition. She touted her education and experience working in the health care and nonprofit industries and an ability to find common ground to work through issues.
Many of Kohler’s answers revealed his brand of old-school conservatism, eschewing government handouts and espousing individual freedom. He said his experience inside and out of government would enable him to hit the ground running to help the people who live in the district.
Miller seemed to advocate for consensus solutions rather than a particular ideology. She stressed that, as a young mother who is dealing with many of the issues affecting the region’s voters, she’d be able to take their voice to Capitol Hill.
The debate was held via Zoom, moderated by Julia Kretschmar and hosted by the League of Women Voters of Utah and the Better Utah Institute. On most questions, Kohler espoused a conservative position while Miller refrained from charged rhetoric but advocated for solutions generally supported by the left.
On the issue of police violence, for example, Kohler was the first to respond.
“First of all, I do not support defunding the police, tell you that right now,” he said. “I think those cities that have done that are sending the wrong message.”
He went on to say that more police training would be helpful, along with more funding, and that the issue is indicative of fading societal values.
“We as a society need to start giving our leaders — police for one thing, teachers for others — giving them more respect,” he said. “I think that the lack of respect for leadership and for people in the community like policemen has started in our homes. It’s trending in the wrong way, in my opinion.”
Miller did not take up the mantle of defunding the police, joining Kohler in advocating for more funding for law enforcement, but said the system of policing has reached its capacity and should not be asked to carry more responsibilities.
She stopped short of pointing to systemic problems with policing but said that citizens should not be afraid to call the police, something advocates for police reform have said that minority communities feel.
The candidates were also asked to comment on the government’s response to the coronavirus. Kohler said he did not support shutting down the economy as was done in many parts of the state in the spring. Instead, he said the government should provide its citizens with guidelines for safe behavior and refrain from impinging on personal freedom.
“We follow our experts but we leave it to individuals and businesses to do the best they can,” Kohler said. “… I would support freedom to the people and publish guidelines and let them deal with it.”
Miller pushed back against Kohler’s contention that COVID-19 isn’t as serious as is portrayed in the media, saying that even some young, otherwise healthy people have ended up in intensive care units.
She did not address government orders to shut down businesses, but said she supported federal eviction moratoriums.
Kohler said the economic situation wouldn’t have been as bad if the government hadn’t shut down sectors of the economy, and, while he supported eviction moratoriums, said that couldn’t continue indefinitely.
“I don’t think it’s government’s place to bail us out forever,” he said.
Miller contended that the burden cannot fall to nonprofits, which often do not have sources of revenue beyond fundraising.
Both candidates advocated for local control when asked about the controversial legislation that spurred Hideout’s attempt to annex land in Richardson Flat.
Miller said the Legislature should leave these issues to cities and counties, while Kohler called legislation allowing this type of annexation bad policy that he would oppose.
In his closing statement, Kohler portrayed himself as something of a “political geek” who would enjoy turning on C-SPAN and watching it for a couple hours, acknowledging that it’s not for everyone. He said his knowledge of the political system — with years serving in elected office at the county level and years lobbying the Legislature — as well as personal relationships with many legislators would help him advocate effectively for residents’ needs immediately.
Miller said that she was uniquely qualified for the job because she brings a diverse background to the table. She stressed her lived experience as preparing her to advocate for the issues she’s heard about from voters.
“COVID has touched so many lives and I’m in that with you,” she said, adding that she has been the sole breadwinner for her family after her husband’s employment was ended because of the pandemic.
The November election will be conducted primarily through mail-in balloting. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 23, with ballots slated to be mailed to registered voters three weeks before Election Day Nov. 3. For more information, visit the Summit County Clerk’s website at summitcounty.org/281/Voter-Registration-Elections.
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