KSL INVESTIGATES

Gephardt: Utah AG Debate Won’t Happen Until After Voting Begins

Oct 14, 2020, 10:44 PM | Updated: 11:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Ballots are already in the mail, but the Utah Debate Commission suggests Utahns hold off on voting until after they’ve had a chance to hear the two candidates running for attorney general square off in a televised debate on October 21.

“We hope that [voters] will tune in and listen to the debate before people cast their ballot,” said Nena Slighting, executive director of the Utah Debate Commission.

Slighting said the commission tries to hold the debates before mail-in ballots go out. But the debate between Republican incumbent Sean Reyes and Democrat challenger Greg Skordas won’t take place until a week after most Utah voters have received their ballot.

Slighting said that’s concerning.

“You know, I think more this year, yes, it does concern us,” she said.

Delayed Debate

The KSL Investigators have learned that the debate was pushed after Reyes claimed he was going to be out of town.

According to the Utah Debate Commission, the attorney general debate was originally scheduled for October 1. It was pushed to October 21 earlier this summer at the request of Reyes.

The commission sets the debate schedule months in advance, often before they even know who will be on the stage. Candidates are not supposed to be able to pick and choose when they’ll debate, and the schedule is only supposed to change in extreme situations – like a natural disaster, Slighting said.

“I think there’s a fairness component,” Slighting said. “We want to deal with each campaign fairly and equally.”

It’s a policy on which the Utah Debate Commission has been rigid in the past. When one candidate chooses not to make themselves available, the commission has been known to hold the debate without them. In fact, in 2016, Reyes got the stage to himself for a full hour after his opponent pulled out.

Slighting said Reyes’ request to push this year’s debate was only granted because it was an extreme circumstance.

“We received a notice from the Reyes campaign that the attorney general would be traveling to Hawaii for the funeral of his father,” Slighting said.

Schedule Questions

So, was Reyes actually in Hawaii on or around October 1?

The KSL Investigators asked one of Reyes’ spokespeople, Britany Rich, if he was indeed in Hawaii.

“We don’t have access to the attorney general’s personal calendar,” she replied.

KSL asked Rich to check with Reyes directly. She did not respond.

Reyes was not in Hawaii the day before the originally scheduled debate.

On September 30, his campaign hosted a meet-and-greet in Sundance and the KSL Investigators found a social media post showing Reyes posing for pictures at a political event in Springville on the same day. Five days later, on October 6, he wasn’t in Hawaii. He was in Utah hosting President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, and accepting an award for work he’s done combating human trafficking. The next day, October 7, he was spotted at the University of Utah during the vice-presidential debate.

Skordas, a Salt Lake City lawyer who is running against Reyes for the AG gig, said he suspects Reyes doesn’t want to meet him for a televised debate until after voting has begun.

“I mean, I hate to use the word, ‘lie,’ but he completely misled everyone,” said Skordas. “I think it was a calculated move on the attorney general’s part. I think he misled a lot of people on why he couldn’t make the prior two dates and you’ll have to ask him about those.”

Delaying the debate as long as possible could be a good political move. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll from September showed Reyes with a strong lead; 47% of respondents said they’d vote for Reyes, 24% said they’d vote for Skordas.

Debates are an important way to get to know candidates and how they differ on important issues and could sway voters.

After Reyes declined to answer questions on camera, KSL-TV caught up with him at the Utah State Capitol last week.

Asked for an explanation why he told the debate commission he’d be out of town, Reyes responded, “The Utah Debate Commission and my team worked together to find a time that was mutually available, so that’s our answer.”

Asked whether or not he was trying to dodge a televised debate with Skordas, Reyes responded, “I’ve participated in a number of events. Just last week we did one together with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. So, I welcome the debate and look forward to debating Mr. Skordas at the appropriate time with the Utah Debate Commission.”

As for the Utah Debate Commission, Slighting remains neutral. She said the commission acted in good faith and took Reyes at his word he’d be out of town for a funeral.

But did Reyes act in good faith?

“That’s not for me to determine,” she said.

The debate for Utah Attorney General will happen on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast live and streaming on KSL-TV, KSL Newsradio and ksltv.com.

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Gephardt: Utah AG Debate Won’t Happen Until After Voting Begins