The Utah Senate District 9 candidate debate in Salt Lake City

A theme for the ages emerges when Salt Lake City Democrats Derek Kitchen and Jennifer Plumb go head-to-head in a preschool debate.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) Senator Derek Kitchen, left, and Dr. Jennifer Plumb, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Utah’s Senate District 9.

Democratic state senator Derek Kitchen told participants in a 90-minute debate Wednesday night that he is seeking another term on Capitol Hill because representation is important and he reflects Utah’s young population better than his 51-year-old challenger Jennifer Plumb.

Kitchen, 33, said he’s the only millennial in the upper chamber and the only openly queer legislator in the legislature, offering a perspective that more closely matches the makeup of what is now Senate District 9.

“I represent you because I am you,” he said. “I know what it’s like to rent in this community. We know what it’s like to breathe in bad air. We know what it’s like when our dignity is questioned and our existence ignored.”

If Kitchen wants to serve a second term in Utah’s most liberal Senate district, he must first beat Plumb in the June 28 primary. She came within 550 votes to defeat him in the 2018 Democratic runoff.

For her part, Plumb didn’t directly respond to Kitchen’s comment on age during the debate, but said in an interview that the comments were “almost age-related” and that she doesn’t judge people by the demographic group they represent.

Instead, she turned her debating attention to Kitchen’s work as a senator.

“We have to be committed to change,” Plumb said. “This district hasn’t had many results in 10 years.”

(Blake Apgar | The Salt Lake Tribune) State Senator Derek Kitchen, far right, and his main opponent, Jennifer Plumb, stand next to him during a debate in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 1, 2022.

Plumb, a pediatric emergency room physician and opioid reduction advocate, said she has a track record of working with lawmakers as an outsider to legislate progressive causes like needle replacement and access to naloxone.

“I’ve shown I know how to navigate these often shark-infested waters,” she said, “because the results are too important not to ignore.”

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Derek Kitchen asks Rep. Chris Stewart a question during his visit to the Democratic Caucus at the Capitol on Thursday, January 27, 2022. Kitchen faces Jennifer Plumb in a Democratic primary this month.

Kitchen, a small business owner, said he wants another term because the district needs a representative willing to urgently fight the Republican supermajority in the legislature. He said his job was to advance a democratic agenda and insisted he did so with bills.

“My job is to propose legislation that this community wants,” Kitchen said. “If Republicans choose not to support it, that’s on them.”

Plumb said she and Kitchen may agree on many principles and policies, but they differ in their approach to legislation.

“I don’t think it’s okay,” she said, “not to both represent and deliver to your constituents.”

One issue on which Kitchen and Plumb differ on policy approaches is addressing Salt Lake City’s homelessness.

Kitchen wants to focus on financing the “Housing First” model. By providing housing, he said, it would provide solutions to other problems faced by vulnerable residents.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Jennifer Plumb, pictured in October 2021, is up against state senator Derek Kitchen in this month’s primary.

Plumb countered that just focusing on housing isn’t enough. The state, she said, needs to expand its services and outreach programs with teams of social workers and people treating substance use disorders.

On air quality, Kitchen advocates a carbon tax to pay for free public transport and reduce emissions by updating building codes.

Plumb said Democrats need to work their way up to big legislation like carbon taxes, starting with small goals like updating the electric grid or making it economical to own an electric vehicle.

“If we overstate our liberal agenda, which we’re constantly accused of, then the conversation ends,” Plumb said. “Invoices don’t come out [the] Rules [committee].”

It’s not enough to make incremental progress when it comes to addressing issues like air quality or access to water, Kitchen said. “We must act today”

To save the shrinking Great Salt Lake, he said, Democrats must call on Republicans to make policies — such as building a Bear River Dam — that would harm endangered bodies of water.

Kitchen said the state should streamline its agriculture, move quickly to secondary water metering and stop growing alfalfa to ship overseas.

Plumb defended her approach to policy collaboration, saying it was the only way to make progress.

To meet Utah’s water needs, Plumb said the state must work on water optimization in agricultural and urban areas, followed by tough talks about crop choices. To get there, she said, urban and rural parts of the state must build better relationships.

Salt Lake County will begin mailing ballots next week. The winner of the Senate District 9 primary will face nonpartisan write-in candidate Vance Hansen in November. The Utah Senate District 9 candidate debate in Salt Lake City

Joel McCord

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