The Utah Debate Commission, a new group made up of educational institutions and media outlets dedicated to creating a better system for political debates, is sponsoring five debates this fall, one of which will occur at SUU.
The debates will include the candidates for Utah’s four congressional districts, one for each representative in the House of Representatives, as well as the candidates for the position of attorney general.
The second congressional district debate will be at SUU on Sept. 25.
Eric Kirby, executive director of the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service, said Utah Senator Scott Howell and Richard Davis, a Utah Debate Commission Board member and political science professor at Brigham Young University, were the main advocates of the commission.
“(They) got together and wanted to create a system in which Utah’s candidates were required to participate in a minimum amount of debates to ensure that voters had the opportunity to hear candidates debate,” Kirby said.
Nena Slighting, executive director of the Utah Debate Commission, said the commission was also formed to increase political participation.
“For several years, Utah was in the highest 10 percent of voter participation,” Slighting said. “And in the last decade or so, it has really slipped toward the bottom.”
She said she believes voter participation will increase if voters are able to see the candidates and understand their platforms.
“We need to enhance the political dialogue,” Slighting said.
Kirby said he, along with faculty members from five other universities, was approached to create a think tank to decide how the debates would work.
According to the official website for the Utah Debate Commission, the other universities participating are Weber State University, Utah Valley University, BYU and the University of Utah.
Slighting said the commission formed while Dixie State University was transitioning from being a college to a university, so while it was not included in this upcoming round of debates, it will be included in the next round.
She said she choose to schedule the debates at the universities because it would make the candidates move around the state.
“It’s not just along the Wasatch Front, where most debates take place,” Slighting said. “These debates will be broadcast across the board on primetime (television).”
Slighting said many news outlets, such as ABC 4, FOX 13, the Salt Lake Tribune and a few radio stations, will be covering the events.
Kirby said the Republican Party of Utah has not endorsed the debates, even though a few individual Republicans have. He said he does not think this will impact the debate turnout.
Kirby said he believes the idea of their opponent having more time to speak to the public than them will be enough incentive to get any politician to the debate.
“It’s amazing what happens when we say ‘Republican Party, we will be holding a debate at SUU, your opponent will be there, and it will be broadcast live throughout Utah to two-plus million people. We hope you attend. If not, your opponent will have one hour to themselves,’” Kirby said.
Kirby said Indiana has a similar program and every candidate has shown up to the debates.
He said these debates will benefit students in a number of ways.
Taryn Crimin, a freshman physical education & human development major from Kaysville, said having the debate at SUU will impact her involvement in a political sphere.
“I’m not very involved with politics,” Crimin said. “I don’t know a lot about it, but I think being able to see it, I would be more involved.”
She said she would rather see the event than hear about it.
“If I could actually go to an event and listen to them and see their faces, I would be more willing to vote,” Crimin said.
Slighting said the debates have an educational component to them.
“We’re outreaching to high schools and political science (majors) to get them involved in the debate process,” Slighting said.
Kirby said having these debates will help spotlight SUU and its community.
“It’s going to help SUU by broadcasting SUU to the entire state,” Kirby said. “During those debates, (the university) will be mentioned numerous times.”
He said it will also bring recognition to the degrees students earn from SUU.
Kirby said the debate will benefit students.
“Politics are involved in every aspect of your life,” Kirby said. “(They) enforce the laws, which impact all of our lives.”