Park Record 2020 Voter Guide: Senate District 19
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 House District 53 race, here for the House District 28 race, here for the House District 54 race and here for the First Congressional District race.
Utah Senate District 19: John D. Johnson (Republican) vs. Katy Owens (Democrat)
• What are your qualifications for office and why are you running?
Johnson: I am running because I believe we need fresh, innovative, and conservative leadership to bring a new perspective to the Legislature.
The recent attempt to increase our gas and grocery taxes shows how off-base things have become. I’m proud to have been on the front lines on tax reform from the beginning. We need more leaders who understand economics and will fight for Utahns and their family’s budget.
I believe the best government is achieved by individuals who understand economics, values that represent the best of who we are, protecting our constitutional rights, and representing those voices at the decision table. We need to support our teachers, defend the environment, support law enforcement, enable freedom in healthcare choices, and, most of all, a government that listens.
I have a Ph.D. in Economics from Texas A&M University. I am currently a Professor of Data Analytics and Information Systems at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University.
I am a successful entrepreneur, having co-founded FNC Inc., a real estate technology company that revolutionized the appraisal process in mortgage lending. Through this effort, we created hundreds of high-paying tech jobs across the country for nearly two decades.
Owens: I am running because I want to build a better Utah with healthy, vibrant communities that work for everyone, and to create a more representative and responsive legislature. The current legislature has shown time and time again that they are not listening to the people. In the last two years alone, they have dismantled ballot measures passed by voters, pushed through an unpopular tax reform bill, and consistently underfunded education. I will prioritize a quality education for our kids, access to healthcare, and a government that listens to voters. These are also priorities for the majority of Utahns but are not being reflected in the current legislature.
I have a bachelor’s degree in international relations, a master’s degree in political science, and have been in the field of election administration for the last ten years. I own a small consulting business that supports effective election management, sound election policy, and secure election-related technologies. I have worked with governments and organizations at the county, state, national, and international levels. My professional experience has taken me to legislatures all over the country, and I have seen firsthand what it takes to make good public policy. I will make values-based, data-driven decisions.
• How would you assess the state’s response to COVID-19? What specific actions undertaken by state officials have you agreed or disagreed with?
Johnson: I believe calls for prudence have been successful but shutting down business has hurt families and business owners.
Information on where threats are the highest such as color-coded restriction levels, has been useful in informing the public about their risks and deciding where masks are helpful. We need to encourage people to protect themselves and their families. Mask’s and social distancing seem to have yielded positive results. We always need to take threats seriously, but we also need to balance individual liberty. Think of it as a balance between protecting our freedoms, public health, economy, small business, and every individual Utahn affected by our response.
Protecting higher-risk individuals is a prudent strategy. A focus on those where the threat of severe consequences of the virus is highest should always be a top priority.
Owens: The state needs to consistently base its actions on the advice of healthcare professionals with specific benchmarks for case counts and infection rates. Too often in the last few months these benchmarks have been set, and then ignored. When we first reopened, we did not have sufficient testing to ensure that we were where we needed to be. Amid the crisis the state approved expensive no-bid contracts without proper oversight and accountability, which was not a wise use of taxpayer money. When I speak to small business owners, they say that consistent mask wearing is the only way they keep their businesses going. This should be a statewide requirement, with local jurisdictions who are not seeing high infection rates able to apply for exemptions based on data and the advice of health professionals.
• 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?
Johnson: Our Legislature should clear the path for economic recovery after this pandemic. We can start by cutting taxes, unnecessary regulations, and rolling back excessive government spending and programs. We can also work to make it much easier to work from home, start new businesses, and support creative technologies to help jump-start our state economy again. My experience in data, economics, and creating job growth in the mortgage industry following the housing bubble in 2008 will be invaluable as we navigate obstacles to find solutions.
We need to encourage people to protect themselves and their families. Still, we need to jump-start the economy after COVID-19 by cutting taxes, removing unnecessary regulations, and rolling back excessive government.
We always need to take threats seriously, but we also need to balance individual liberty. Think of it as a balance between protecting our freedoms, public health, economy, small business, and every individual Utahn.
Owens: We need to recognize that economic health and public health are interconnected. We need healthy workers, families, and communities in order to have healthy businesses and continue the road to economic recovery. The first step is ensuring we have a handle on this virus, which means sufficient contact tracing and testing. We need to follow the advice of health professionals to safely operate our businesses. We need to ensure that Utahns of all income levels have access to health care, and increase the availability of quality, affordable childcare to support women in the workforce.
• Utah’s rural communities have not enjoyed the same level of post-Great Recession economic success as many areas of the state. As the state emerges from the pandemic, what specific actions can the Legislature take to ensure places like Coalville and the rest of eastern Summit County benefit from the economic recovery?
Johnson: As of Mon, Oct 5, 2020, Coalville has had 1,065 cases, which is an increase of 5.9% since last week but has only reported one death. Graying America communities are rural areas that have a high prevalence of aging retirees. We need to protect high-risk individuals without shutting down their communities. A focus on those where the threat of severe consequences of the virus is highest should always be a top priority.
The CARES Act allocates $150 billion to the states and about $30 billion to localities, but this leaves many localities without the help they need. The $30 billion designated to localities will go only to cities with at least 500,000 people. Given that the $150 billion is already not enough for state budgets, rural communities will be disadvantaged in accessing these resources. Communication is necessary to ensure that rural areas are not forgotten.
Owens: Our rural communities are special, and they want to keep their way of life as much as possible. To do that, they need viable work opportunities that allow young people to stay in those communities. The expansion of rural broadband so that young people can stay connected to jobs in cities while living in rural communities is one avenue, and we’ve also seen more young people interested in small agricultural businesses in many of our rural communities. We need to ensure that small businesses are receiving support as we emerge from this recession and are not left behind in favor of large corporations.
• Senate District 19 covers a sprawling and diverse area, stretching from Summit County to North Ogden. If elected, how will you successfully balance the interests of the various communities the district includes?
Johnson: We shouldn’t need a referendum to stop tax increases on our groceries and gas, especially when we have a budget surplus. I helped fund and lead the fight to defeat the recent tax increase, and as your senator, I will look for innovative ways to reduce spending and bloated government. My experience as a creative problem solver and job creator will enable me to work with others to eliminate unnecessary government spending while streamlining and improving essential services to lower our taxpayers’ costs.
Balancing competing interests goes hand in hand in understanding the proper role of government. I believe that the government properly exists by the governed’s consent and must be restrained from intruding into its citizens’ freedoms.
I also think that the government’s function is not to grant rights but to protect the unalienable, God-given rights of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
Owens: Since announcing my candidacy more than a year ago, I have spent a significant amount of time in every community within the district, from North Ogden to the Ogden Valley to Coalville to the Snyderville Basin. I have attended city council meetings, spoken with groups and clubs, met with community activists, and reached out to voters to stay informed of the issues that matter in each of these communities. As a legislator, it’s important to me to listen to and represent everyone in the district, not just those in the most populous areas. I will continue to show up, ask questions, be a part of these conversations, and listen to voters.
• Please differentiate yourself from your opponent.
Johnson: As a professor and parent, I see the problems facing the education of our youth. Let’s allow teachers to be the professionals they are. I see socialism creeping into our education system, stifling diversity of thought, and preaching big-government socialism as our savior. We need to get the government out of the way and put parents and teachers back in charge.
As an economist, I get the challenges we face in managing structural problems in our tax system. But as a voter, I was frustrated by a special session with insufficient time to vet or even read the recent tax bill. I’m proud to have been on the front line as a significant contributor fighting for simplicity and certainty in our tax code.
We need leaders who understand economics and the impact of taxes on businesses and families. We can solve these issues without adding additional tax burdens and uncertainty.
Owens: We are at a moment in history where we need leaders who consider the most vulnerable among us, who listen to voters, and who have the experience to make smart policy choices. Professionally, I research and analyze public policy. I am someone who will read every bill, consider the data, and listen to experts and voters to understand the potential impacts of a given bill. I seek to genuinely listen to every point of view and consider the implications for our state now and in the lifetimes of my children. I’ll put the people of Utah above special interests or political parties.
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