With social distancing as the new norm, campaign season has gone digital. On Tuesday night, Lehi resident and Lehi City Planning Commissioner, Greg Jackson moderated an online debate in the battle for Utah House District 56. The debate was presented to Republican delegates who will be voting at this month’s convention. District 56 includes much of east Lehi and part of American Fork and is currently represented by four-term incumbent Kay Christofferson. Christofferson is being challenged by Lehi resident and political activist, Merrilee Boyack.
Boyack opened the debate on offense by addressing the recent tax reform bill that was ultimately repealed after a citizen referendum. “I’ve gotten tired of the flow of tax increases from the legislature. We are in a time of economic turmoil and we tighten our belts and the legislature should do the same.” said Boyack, who later said, “The biggest difference between Kay and I is taxes. Kay has a pattern for voting for tax increases.”
In response, Christofferson, who voted in favor of the tax reform bill, said the bill had many misconceptions and the legislature was trying to solve the imbalance between income tax that goes solely to education funding and the sales tax that funds the general budget. “The only way to fix the imbalance was to lower the income tax and increase the sales tax. Overall, to the state, it was a $160 million tax cut and I voted for the tax cut and the rebalancing. People didn’t like that; I don’ think they really understood it, a lot of them.”
Moving into questions provided by constituents, moderator Jackson asked the candidates about their thoughts regarding affordable housing and the potential for future generations to live in their hometown. Boyack continued on the offense saying, “We can reduce impact fees and other building costs, we can reduce economic development tax incentives, we can streamline approval processes and permitting. What I do not like is that an affordable housing bill was passed this year, with Kay’s support. $10 million for government to weed [get involved] in the housing market. We lived in California for a time and it was an unmitigated disaster there.”
The debate then turned to Lehi’s top issue, infrastructure. Boyack and Christofferson both emphasized the need for long-term planning with Christofferson touting his influence on the hill saying, “The I-15 freeway wasn’t supposed to start until next year. I worked with local businessmen and community leaders and said we need to speed this up and we were able to get that done three years earlier. We also need to be thinking about future highways and connecting roads, even more than 15 years out.”
Lehi resident, Wendy Shoop asked the candidates about their position on gun control, with both expressing strong support for gun rights and constitutional carry. Christofferson noted his legislative record of opposing red flag laws. Boyack responded to the question and said, “We as a family very much stand firmly with the second amendment. My husband is a concealed carry instructor and my son works for a gun manufacturer. It is part of our family culture. It is crucial to allow people to have the guns they need to protect their families.”
The Coronavirus topic was, of course, acknowledged in the one-hour conversation, with Boyack addressing the challenges around the role of government during the crisis. “I think we are all trying to balance the question, ‘Is this as serious and dire as they say it is or is it overblown?’ I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. We also need to protect individual liberties. I think that the Governor has done a good job of keeping things voluntary right now. I will say philosophically, I would err on the side of personal liberty,” said Boyack. Representative Christofferson shared his support for Governor Herbert’s actions.
The protection of family and life was a large part of Tuesday’s debate. Boyack, who founded the group “Abortion Free Utah,” and is an influential member of Family Watch International, spoke passionately about her work in the arena, including leading the charge in Lehi City recently proclaiming itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”
“Pushing back on government intrusion in our families is extraordinarily important to me. We’ve had some really bad bills come forward [in the legislature]. This year, compulsory kindergarten–they tried that and luckily, we were able to push back and that failed. They wanted to do mental health screenings on every public-school student, and we pushed back on that. It is vital we have strong leadership,” said Boyack.
Boyack detailed her past advocacy work as a resident and Poway City Councilmember in California. “I lived in California during proposition eight and was the area coordinator. I worked on protecting traditional marriage and that was a huge bill. I remember working hours and hours and hours on that while dealing with breast cancer at the same time. Working on that taught me a lot about fighting for what’s right.”
Christofferson reiterated his legislative record, “I have voted for all pro-life bills in the legislature.” He continued, “I have two adopted granddaughters and I’ll tell you what, their mother could have easily aborted them, and I am really glad she opted for life. I am all about families.”
To conclude, the candidates shared vastly different reasons for running. As the challenger, Boyack said, “We’ve lost a lot of strong champions for conservative values. The legislature has voted more and more moderately. I’m running because we need a strong, bold, articulate leader who will stand up and be a champion for shrinking the government and protecting our families and business from government intrusion.”
As the incumbent, Christofferson said, “I feel there is still business I would like to conduct. I would like to continue some cost-cutting measures I’ve been working on. As an engineer, I have an inclination to solve problems. I’m also willing to listen. I believe in gun rights, the first amendment, federalism and I believe in cutting costs. I have never voted against a tax cut. I have a reputation for working with people and getting things done.”
The race for District 56 will continue at the Republican nominating convention on April 18. Boyack will need to advance at the convention to appear on the primary ballot in June. Christofferson has received the needed signatures to advance to the primary, regardless of his convention outcome.