Candidates and community gather to discuss poverty

Utah gubernatorial candidates and members of the community rallied around those battling poverty at a conference held June 10 and 11 at the Union.

Called an opportunity to “look beyond stereotypes and work together to solve problems,” by Salt Lake County Councilperson Russell Skousen, Community Solutions 2004-held by Utah Issues, Center for Poverty Research and Action-brought together people of low income, policy-makers, service providers and advocates to discuss and find solutions to end poverty in Utah.

In its 29th year, this year the conference addressed poverty-related issues with speakers, workshops and question-and-answer sessions with gubernatorial candidates.

Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. and Republicans Jon Huntsman Jr. and Nolan Karras were scheduled to attend.

The session between Republican candidates Huntsman and Karras got off to a bumpy start when it was announced that Huntsman was not present. He was attending the funeral of Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C., instead. Skousen spoke on Huntsman’s behalf at the event.

Skousen related what Huntsman’s stance was on issues related to poverty in Utah.

He said that Huntsman “is first and last a man with humanitarian interests.” Skousen said that Huntsman’s greatest concerns related to poverty were “11th- and 12th-grade dropout rates, especially with minorities, educational needs and lack of affordable housing.”

Skousen said that Huntsman planned to combat these issues through “adjusting tax brackets-[the] wealthier will pay more than they currently do.” He also said that Huntsman is “in favor of eliminating taxes on food.”

Most of the crowd reacted adversely to Skousen’s response to how Huntsman wouldn’t have to combat the lack of quality health insurance coverage for low-income Utahns, as he said that Huntsman believed that with the rising economy, “many of Utah’s 300,000 non-covered will get coverage through their employers.”

Huntsman’s Republican opponent, Karras, who was president of the Utah State Board of Regents, said he was honored to be asked to attend the conference and described himself as coming from a blue-collar heritage.

Of the issues related to poverty, he said, “These are dear to my heart. I came today to make sure you knew I cared.”

Karras said he didn’t have a set stance on how to fix problems. “I’m not close-minded about any solution,” he said.

Karras promised to meet with advocates in attendance about poverty issues if he’s elected governor.

When asked about quality health care, Karras said that he wanted to drive costs down with market-based solutions.

Karras ended by saying, “There is two points I’d like to make: One, I came,” to which the crowd responded with applause, and, “Two, you won’t find anyone with a softer heart. I care about people.”

Besides the sessions with the candidates, those who attended the conference, which was free to the public, could go to any of the 30 workshops.

The workshops included “Implications of Poverty on Children’s Mental Health,” “Out of Hock & Out of Debt” and “Utah’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness.”

The conference also featured tables and booths by businesses and organizations that provide services to Utahans in poverty.

One such group, Utah Transit Authority, was there to promote awareness of public transportation.

The conference featured a keynote address by Philip Mangano, who is the Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, and an awards ceremony that included an award to Gov. Olene Walker as Elected Official of the Year.

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