As Nov. 2 draws closer, voters around the country are keeping a close eye on their gubernatorial elections. This is true even in heavily-Republican Utah, where incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert is facing a strong Democratic challenge from Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
Known for tightening budgets and his emphasis on making Utah’s largest county a welcoming place for people of all races and sexual orientations, Corroon has received a great deal of support from the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, including an endorsement from statewide gay and transgender rights group Equality Utah.
“I feel like we’ve been getting a positive response from the LGBT community overall,” said Corroon. “They’ve been very supportive.” It isn’t difficult to see why. Although Corroon has stated that he supports “traditional marriage between a man and a woman” and is not in favor of civil unions, he nonetheless has said that all Utahns “should be able to work, live and support their loved ones without discrimination.” To this effect, he said he would support a bill allowing Utahns with same-sex partners to file wrongful death suits as well as a statewide employment and housing nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I would be supportive of a statewide anti-discrimination ordinance like we did in Salt Lake County,” said Corroon, referring to the ordinance the County Council passed in December, 2009. “We’re seeing more and more [Utah] cities pass anti-discrimination ordinances. I think there’s enough momentum that we ought to look at it statewide.”
Corroon also noted that he would support a policy change proposed by Equality Utah as part of its 2008 Common Ground Initiative: extending health insurance benefits to the unmarried partners of same-sex state employees, as Salt Lake County now does.
“But I’m not sure the Legislature would pass it,” said Corroon, noting that funding matters such as this one “come under the purview of the legislative body.”
On the final gubernatorial debate between Corroon and Herbert on Oct. 19, members of Justice Vanguard, a local social justice group that embraces confrontational tactics, were escorted from the room after asking Herbert pointed questions about the connection between gay teen suicides and his lack of support for an anti-bullying law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Although Corroon’s campaign did not offer comment directly following the incident, Corroon later said that he would be sympathetic to such an anti-bullying law, depending on its terms.
“At first there was a little confusion as to who was protesting,” he said of the incident. “One of the [Justice Vanguard] members stood up, and I thought it would have been a good idea to come to the mic and propose his question. It wasn’t quite the format [given that all questions given during the debate were pre-screened], but it was supposed to be a public town hall meeting. It might’ve been better for them to arrange that [asking the question] beforehand, but since he was there he should’ve been able to ask both of us the question.”
“I don’t think any student should have to put up with bullying at school,” he said. “I was bullied in school, but fortunately I’m a big guy and could defend myself, but it’s an uncomfortable situation that shouldn’t exist.”
Of course, treating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns isn’t the only thing that Corroon stands for. Along with investing in energy independence, protecting Utah’s environment and improving its air and water quality, and supporting small businesses (including those in rural Utah as well as farmers and ranchers), Corroon hopes to reign in the state’s budget during a continually sluggish economy.
“I really think we need a scalpel-like approach to looking at the state budget. That’s what we did to the county, where we were able to reduce our budget by 20 percent last year,” he said. “We didn’t cut significant services, but we were able to make significant reductions in our expenses” without laying off many employees. If he is elected, Corroon said he would like to appoint a chief administration officer to oversee the state’s day-to-day financial management. This position, he said, would help the governor to know where the state’s money is going.
“I think [the fact Utah doesn’t have such a position] is why you see a lot of things happening that the governor doesn’t know about, like the $13 million payoff on the I-15 contract,” he said, referring to a payment that the Utah Department of Transportation made to contractor Flatiron/Skanska/Zachry when FSZ lost a bid to reconstruct the highway. Herbert has said he had no knowledge of the payment, and in fact learned about it only 30 minutes before a press conference in which he was asked about it.
The Governor declined QSaltLake’s request for an interview about his campaign through his spokesman, Don Olsen.
Corroon also said he is committed to creating “a long term funding plan for our education system,” which has been ranked last in the nation for spending per pupil for years. He suggested that funding schools through property tax rather than the less stable income tax may be the solution, but noted that Legislators, educators, the Governor and “financial wizards” should work together on a solution. He also said that freezing tuition for incoming college freshmen, so that they pay the same rates throughout their college career even if tuition goes up after their first year, may also be an option.
“We’re seeing increased growth in our student population,” he said. “It’s not just a one year thing, it’s going to happen well into the future and we need to plan for it like we plan for our roads.”
“I also think we need to have more community involvement in our education system whether that’s parents or businesses or college students [being involved]. This is a community issue, not just a school issue.”
Although Utah has not elected a Democratic Governor since 1977, Corroon said he thinks he has more than just a shot at the office, especially given his reputation for being willing to work with Utahns of all political views.
“We’re still the underdogs, but I believe this election is going to be about who can get their voters out,” he said. “For an off election year, we think we’ve got a good ground team and we’ll do a good job of getting our voters out. I encourage the LGBT community to do the same.”
For more information about Peter Corroon visit votecorroon.com.