SALT LAKE CITY — Democrat Mike Weinholtz criticized Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday for taking mega-checks from campaign donors and supporting Utah’s push to take control of public lands from the federal government.
Weinholtz made the comments at an AARP-sponsored barbeque in Salt Lake City, one of his first joint appearances with the governor as they both run for the state’s highest elected office this November.
He didn’t mention Herbert by name, but he instead attacked positions Herbert and other Republicans have supported in the heavily GOP state.
Weinholtz said Utah’s elected officials aren’t listening to citizens, who want the state to expand Medicaid to more people and keep its public lands in federal hands.
Herbert in 2012 signed a law demanding that the U.S. government hand over control more than 30 million acres of land in Utah. State lawmakers are gearing up for a lawsuit to pursue the matter in court. It’s expected to cost up to $14 million, though the Legislature’s own attorneys have warned Utah is unlikely to win.
Lawmakers have already stashed about $5 million for the case, something Herbert signed off on earlier this year.
“It has very little chance of succeeding. It’s actually an example of fiscal irresponsibility,” Weinholtz said Wednesday night.
Herbert took the microphone about 20 minutes later and did not criticize his opponent. Instead, as he spoke to the several hundred retirees, he touted Utah’s strong economy and fewer government employees since he took office in 2009.
“We’re doing pretty darn well,” he said.
Herbert is a heavy favorite as he runs for another four-year term in a state that’s considered a Republican stronghold.
Earlier this year fended off a bruising primary challenge from Overstock.com board chairman Jonathan Johnson. He faced criticism after a recording emerged of him saying he’d be “Available Jones” for wealthy campaign donors, though he insisted the money wouldn’t influence his policies.
Weinholtz made a veiled reference to that Wednesday night, saying he’s running for people “who can’t write big checks to politicians to get their attention.”
In just over two months since Herbert defeated Johnson in the primary, the governor has raked in more than $650,000, according to state fundraising reports. That includes a $250,000 donation from the national Republican Governors Association.
Weinholtz is a wealthy businessman who has largely run his campaign on his own money. In the months since his last campaign report, he has loaned his campaign $1.5 million and raised about $100,000 in contributions. He loaned his campaign $1 million earlier this year.
Other candidates who spoke at event focused on issues of particular concern to seniors such as funding Social Security and prescription drug coverage under Medicare.
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican, and businesswoman Charlene Albarran, a Democrat who is challenging him in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, both spoke, as did Stephen Tryon, who introduced himself as “the Democrat running against Jason Chaffetz” in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
Chaffetz did not appear, nor did Republican Sen. Mike Lee. His Democratic opponent Misty Snow did speak, as did Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah’s 4th District. Her opponent, Democrat Doug Owens, did not attend. He was “triple booked,” according to his brother Steve Owens, who spoke on his behalf.