Park Record 2020 Voter Guide: House District 54
With Election Day approaching on Nov. 3 and mail-in ballots on their way to voters, The Park Record asked candidates to answer a series of questions on topics important to Summit County residents. Click here for the Senate District 19 race, here for the House District 53 race, here for the House District 28 race and here for the First Congressional District race.
Utah House District 54: Mike Kohler (Republican) vs. Meaghan Miller (Democrat)
- What are your qualifications for office and why are you running?
Mike Kohler: I am a lifelong residence of Midway. I also raised my family here. My wife Laurie and I have 6 kids and 23 grand kids. We have worked in or with agriculture most of my life. We love the lifestyle it provides. We have also owned other small businesses over the years.
I want to work for a better Utah. One that maintains the lifestyle we had and my kids had. I have 16 years of experience in county government. I know local government. I have also worked with the legislature as a lobbyist for state agriculture entities and local government for several years and know the way it works. The legislature can and often does change our lives with the bills they pass. It’s important to have a representative with the experience in both business and government who can make a difference. I am running to make a difference for our district.
Meaghan Miller: I have a bachelor of science (BS) in Sports Medicine, an allied healthcare profession. I held a certification by the NATA-BOC as an ATC for a decade before transitioning away from the profession. I have a Master’s degree in Healthcare Policy and Regulation. I have more than a decade of healthcare experience with a mix of clinical care and policy & advocacy. I have more than six years in the nonprofit sector which requires a deep understanding of rules, regulations and creative thinking to manage limited resources while maintaining or even increasing impact.
I’m running for House 54 because I feel it’s time for new voices, fresh blood, and a wider variety of lived experience crafting policy that affects our communities for decades.
- How would you assess the state’s response to COVID-19? What specific actions undertaken by state officials have you agreed or disagreed with?
Kohler: The State’s response to Covid has been about as good as it could be given the information they had at the time balanced with the pressures they faced. It’s easy to criticize decisions after the fact and I’m not going to be too critical of the job so far, however, while we need to be careful to protect vulnerable populations, I think it would be a mistake to shut down the economy again. Even with the case load increasing, I would leave it to local public health and government authorities to make decisions about local activity. Mask mandates (although the data I’ve read gives a mixed review of the effectiveness) should be encouraged in public but I do not support a mask mandate. I do support business owners being able to make and enforcing mask wearing or other restrictions in their own businesses.
Miller: Utah has been attempting to steer the COVID response as we live the historical data. Knowing what we know, now in October, about March and April, I think leadership would have acted differently knowing the effects COVID would have on our state.
I have been and would continue to support appropriating CARES funds to our small businesses and nonprofits as they take revenue hits with fewer options to recapture that lost revenue.
I would like to see our Legislature and state leadership have more transparent reporting on how specifically our programs are supporting businesses and how we are spending CARES money.
I would also support efforts to focus on additional support on areas suffering hardest. Not all business has been affected by proportionally. While there will be casualties, our government’s job is to mitigate these casualties as they directly impact our workforce and economy.
- While Utah has withstood the economic turbulence brought on by the coronavirus pandemic better than many states, the crisis nonetheless has been devastating. What specific policies should the Legislature implement to hasten the recovery?
Kohler: First of all, don’t shut the economy down again. Use public policy to protect vulnerable people in the community, use science to make public recommendations for behavior and then let people live. Let each of us should take responsibility for ourselves. We will do what is best for their families. We must eat, work, pay our bills, be educated, provide services through our businesses and move on with our lives even if it requires a few behavioral changes. I find it interesting that grocery stores needed to stay open to keep us fed but other businesses couldn’t remain open causing their owners to lose everything. Grocery workers didn’t die in mass and neither would the other business owners and patrons. At some point, we will have a vaccine to solve this problem but, in the meantime, let’s not make the solution worse than the problem. Keep Utah Open.
Miller: The economic toll of COVID-19 varies by community. Our most affected, hardest-hit communities have the least access to resources. The Legislature creates blanket policies, and the reality is blanket solutions are not the answer. Through appropriations to communities that need resources, collaboration with local governments like our City and County Councils to provide resources based on the feedback they specifically request is the best way for the Legislature to assist with COVID-19 recovery. An example would be for the Legislature to additionally support the GOED grants our small businesses have been applying for and receiving to continue to promote their creative efforts.
As well-intentioned as our policies might be, they must be collaborative, creative, and involve field and community experts to be successful. What works for one community may not work for another, and Legislative overreach is possible when our current times and circumstances are in this turbulent environment.
- Skyrocketing home and land values in the Wasatch Back have put pressure on farmers, ranchers and land planners as growth and development continue to move into rural areas. How can the Legislature help keep the area’s heritage alive while the pressure to sell and subdivide land continues to mount?
Kohler: This topic has affected my family who has farmed in Midway for generations. Even the land we lease to raise our crops is quickly being swallowed up in subdivisions. Park City has been dealing with this problem for years. Wasatch County is now there as well. That said, I am against government mandates and laws that control land values. They don’t work and are, at very least, unfair. Zoning and State statues that require sub dividers to provide “affordable” housing within developments help some. Increasing density, meaning more homes per acre, can also help although I don’t like that solution. Some of my family have also decided to sell development rights from their open lands. That will keep it open forever. But, public control over pricing between sellers and buyers should not part of the discussion. It is unfair and will cause distortions in the market.
Miller: The topic of development is a conversation for municipal and county government. My role as a legislator is to ensure the state statute around land use is fair, allows for local control, and is impartial to specific projects.
As well intentioned as my efforts might be, the focus on development must remain within the purview of the local authorities who have the best pulse on their communities.
- The Hideout annexation attempt has underscored the importance of regional collaboration to deal with issues like land-planning, transportation and affordable housing. If elected, how would you foster that type of cooperation?
Kohler: I believe one of my strengths is the ability to bring groups together to discuss a common goal. To his credit, Representative Quinn has tried to help those involved in the Hideout problem get together to talk but, emotions are too high and charged by promises of developer money. Part of the problem was created by the legislature when they passed a law blocking Summit County from participating in the annexation discussion. That’s bad policy. The legislature should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. Instead, laws should encourage and empower public and private entities and groups to participate in the development process managed through local planning commissions and councils. That would likely facilitate a better outcome. Without that option, the courts will decide.
Miller: Regional collaboration is, in my opinion, essential to a thriving economy when communities intersect to the degree that they do between Summit and Wasatch Counties.
As a legislator I can foster conversations between leaders, engage as a constituent of my own community leaders, and leverage appropriate state budgetary measures if the right opportunity presented itself as either a pilot for potential scale or was available to other communities demonstrating regional collaboration.
- Please differentiate yourself from your opponent.
Kohler: As voters consider their choice for district 54, Please consider…
My experience and record. I have years of local elected government experience as a county commissioner and the county council member. I know taxes, tax policy and budgets. I have had to make tough decisions about government services and how to pay for them. I hate tax increases. I have managed special service districts, interlocal entities, departments and employees. I have spent time educating and I have fought with legislators regarding laws that create problems for local governments and impediments to businesses.
I have a passion for education and know how important it is that we take care of our teachers. They need better pay. I support law enforcement. I have the desire to maintain our rural lifestyle and will work to give it to the next generation. I am a listener, collaborator and can get things done.
Miller: The more obvious differences between myself and my opponent are age; I am younger with a young family while he is older with grandchildren. I am a woman, and he is a man.
The more nuanced differences between us, from my perspective, are I am more technology savvy and understand the role of technology and STEM in driving our state’s economy forward. My nonprofit experience has shown me the benefit of complete transparency and the creative, efficient use of funds entrusted to me by others.
Lastly, as far as I can glean, I have been putting in the time, energy, and self-sacrifice to knock on thousands of doors and speak with voters in HD 54 about what is important to them.
Service in the State Legislature is both an honor and a privilege, and I appreciate the opportunity to serve our community.
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