Corroon seeks to define himself early in guv's race

Politics » As governor, Corroon would have taken different approach on Snake Valley water, radioactive waste.
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Even before announcing his candidacy for governor, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon has begun to attempt to brand himself as a better alternative to lead the Beehive State than Gary Herbert.

Trainloads of depleted uranium wouldn't have reached Utah under his watch, Corroon says. And the Governor's Office wouldn't be thinking so favorably about an agreement to give away "substantial" amounts of Snake Valley water to Nevada.

"Honestly, I haven't seen the type of leadership this state needs," Corroon said Monday.

The normally soft-spoken Democrat will announce early Tuesday he will seek the top state office, declaring his candidacy at Salt Lake Community College's South City Campus. He then will embark on a two-day statewide tour that includes stops in Ogden, Provo and St. George.

But Corroon is drawing the battle lines early, suggesting Herbert -- who inherited the state's top political post when Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. became U.S. ambassador to China in August -- has taken the wrong approach to Utah governance.

He pointed specifically to Herbert's inability to keep radioactive waste out of Utah and to the governor's leanings toward a Snake Valley water deal. But Corroon also argued Herbert's no-tax approach to the state's budget could threaten critical services such as education.

Later in the day, when Corroon learned of the death of Herbert's father, he expressed his condolences, saying he felt badly about talking politics on a day of mourning.

"I know from experience this can be a very trying time. My family offer heartfelt condolences to the governor and his family," he said.

Herbert's office responded to the Democrat's political critique with a prepared statement.

"While we understand the politics behind Mayor Corroon's statements, Governor Herbert looks forward to discussing his successes on these important policy issues, and many others, over the course of the campaign," the Governor's Office replied in a statement. "Rather than engage in a debate of political rhetoric, the governor is focused on governing the state of Utah at this challenging time."

In the statement, Herbert said he would work to protect education from deeper cuts, despite the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The governor said he will focus on job creation and "fostering economic recovery by not overburdening already struggling Utahns with tax increases."

And yet Herbert's approach to the state's financial woes will undoubtedly become a campaign issue.

Corroon wouldn't go into details Monday -- "I don't want to give away everything" from Tuesday's campaign announcement, he said -- but added the state must take a more "balanced" approach to shaping its spending plan.

"You can't tax your way to economic success," Corroon said. "You can't cut your way to economic success. It has to be a balanced approach."

Corroon's philosophy played out in Salt Lake County government just months ago. The mayor reduced the county's budget by $142 million, raised property taxes by $13.4 million, called on unincorporated residents to shoulder almost $13 million in police fees and shaved the size of the county's work force by more than 300 positions.

But winning the governor's chair will take some work, especially when considering that Utahns haven't elected a Democrat to that office since 1980.

Although Corroon has made considerable strides in fundraising, collecting more than $340,000 so far, he remains far behind his Republican opponent. Herbert has raised more than $1.3 million toward the upcoming campaign. In financial disclosures filed Monday, Corroon reported a balance of $306,000 compared to $817,000 for Herbert.

Democrats view Corroon as the strongest possible candidate to win the statewide seat.

"It has been a very long time since we have had such a good opportunity to elect a governor and a proven vote-getter like Mayor Peter Corroon," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland wrote in a statement to Democratic faithful Monday. "Utah is ready for a change in leadership, and Mayor Corroon is the one to deliver it.

Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.

What's next

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon announces his candidacy at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Salt Lake Community College's South City Campus, 1575 S. State St.