While the 2016 Utah gubernatorial election is still over a year away, Republican hopeful Jonathan Johnson has already begun to make his case. Johnson, chairman of the board for Overstock.com, was in Logan on Wednesday for a town hall meeting at Utah State University.
This campaign is Johnson’s first foray into the world of Utah electoral politics. He said that the decision to run has meant a few changes for his family.
“I’ve spent the last year meeting people, learning their hopes and concerns and what Utahns want for the future,” Johnson said. “Being front and center in the public eye, we stopped reading the comment boards. People say nasty things about us. That’s not so hard for me but it’s a change for the family. We’re leaving a comfortable lifestyle, a private lifestyle to be in the public eye.”
Incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert hasn’t given much comment about the upcoming election. Johnson has called for a series of debates with Herbert, saying that the majority of Utah Republicans want them.
“I think it’s important for voters to see the differences between us in our leadership style, our priorities, and what we want to get done,” he said. “So far, Gov. Herbert has not said yes. We’ve done a poll that says that 60 percent of likely Republican voters would like debates now.”
Johnson said that he is certainly not a fan of federal Common Core education standards. He said that there should be more local control over school curriculum.
“I don’t like Common Core, I don’t like looking to Washington [D.C] and national groups to solve our problems,” he said. “I think the right way to address it is to let each charter school, each school district decide, ‘Do we want to keep these Washington standards or do we want to create Utah standards?’ By bringing the control local, we’re going to get parents more involved and they’ll be more comfortable with what [their kids] are being taught.”
A number of Utah Republicans have called for the federal government to hand over public land they claim rightfully belongs to the state. Johnson said that he wants to correct public misunderstanding about the issue.
“It doesn’t mean owning it and then selling it off, it also doesn’t mean soiling the land,” he said. “I think it’s looking and seeing which areas we should bring a suit in that either gives us leverage to negotiate in Congress or lets us win in court. I don’t think it’s going blind-sided into some lawsuit, I think it’s being careful and picking something we can win.”
After receiving his law degree, Johnson served as a clerk with the Utah Supreme Court.