Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Davis County Clipper: Attendees at the American Legion Boys State appear worried about world

by Louise R. Shaw

OGDEN — It was clear from their questions that the young men attending the American Legion Boys State this year are worried.

They’re worried about the economy, about America’s debt to foreign investors, about the politics of gerrymandering and illegal immigration, and about the oil filling the Gulf of Mexico.

And when they’re not worrying, they’re wondering. Wondering about why the word “God” is being taken out of the phrase “God bless America,” why road construction seems to get better financing than education, why space programs are being scrapped, and why each political party blames the other.

It was left to Rob Miller, chairman of the Davis County Democratic Party, and Dave Hansen, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, to answer their questions in a debate Thursday morning at Weber State University.

And while some answers likely did little to calm their fears, both Miller and Hansen encouraged the young men, who just completed their junior years in high school, to stay involved and work to make a difference.

A recurring question came regarding funding for education.

“Public education is a right here in America, and we need to do better,” said Miller. “When times are bad we make cuts, but when times are good we make cuts too,” he said, adding that in the past 10 years, almost $1 billion has been cut from education funding. “I’m appalled at the money that is wasted not only in education but in government in general.”

“Utah ranks always first or second as a well-managed, well-run state,” said Hansen. “But we have an economic crisis now that requires cuts in state government and the budget. We’ve been able to do that without raising taxes and education has taken a hit like every other issue and every other family.

“Will there be enough? There’s never enough. We can always do more, but we are doing an excellent job without having to raise taxes on families,” he said.

When asked about road construction’s seemingly hefty funding as compared to education’s struggles, both men agreed that good roads contribute to the health of the state, and Hansen explained that there are different funding systems and that money couldn’t be taken from one to provide for another.

“We don’t want dangerous roads,” said Miller. “They’re a necessary component. If we don’t have transit, the economy goes down too.”

“Roads bring jobs and industry,” added Hansen. “Businesses looking to our state look at what kind of transportation system we have.”

At the same time, “a lot of the money for roads comes from the federal stimulus program and the state couldn’t take those dollars and put them in education, it’s designated where it has to go.”

The TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) was questioned by the boys as well, including one young man who said it hadn’t done any good.

Yes, it was “ugly and bad,” said Hansen, “but it was necessary.” He said Sen. Bob Bennett’s (R-Utah) vote for TARP was the main reason he was defeated in his bid for the Republican nomination at the recent state convention. “But the folks in Washington, D.C., were told we have to pass this or we’re going to face a huge financial crisis worldwide.”

Miller agreed that it was necessary, stating that, “had I been a senator I probably would have voted for it.” Further, he said, “I don’t think the gentlemen running (for the Republican nomination and election to Bennett’s seat) would have voted any differently. The country needed to do it to stop the worldwide crisis.

“I don’t think things are getting worse,” he told the young men. “I think they’re getting better.”

Miller and Hansen agreed on many issues, from supporting the flag to respecting California’s vote on Proposition 8, from keeping the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to not splitting school districts.

They didn’t agree on gerrymandering, however, with Miller lamenting the failure of an attempt to establish an independent redistricting committee in Utah and Hansen saying it was better to have elected officials “that we know” drawing the lines.

Miller also pointed to the deregulation that occurred during the eight years that Republicans were in the nation’s presidency and the Legislature for criticism, while Hansen spoke negatively of the current administration’s spending patterns.

“They seem to spend like they’re printing money themselves – which they are,” he said, adding that each of the boys had a $45,000 debt on their head right now. “It’s absolutely one of the most critical issues we are facing.”

In the end, Hansen encouraged the young men to take their interest in politics “beyond this day. If you want to make a change, get involved with politics. Take the time to do something in this year’s election.”

Miller advised them to vote for the best person, not necessarily one with an “R” or a “D” by their name. He challenged them to think for themselves and not blindly follow a conservative like Rush Limbaugh or a liberal like Bill Maher.

“Don’t let the emotion of hate or fear drive a wedge or let the issues divide us. Use common sense and the good spirit that is inside you. Stay involved.”

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