Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke said Friday that he will restore the Office of Ethnic Affairs, which was dissolved this year by Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature.
Cooke said it is just one area where Herbert has failed to include Utah's growing minority communities.
"Sadly, the close bond that should exist between the minority community and the Utah governor has been broken," Cooke said. "Not just symbolically, but the elimination of the Office of Ethnic Affairs shows a meaningful lack of contact between Utah's minorities and the state's chief executive."
The office and its five staffers were whittled to one paid position and turned into a volunteer commission earlier this year.
"[The governor] made it a larger group that was more representative of the community and did it on a voluntary basis," said Marty Carpenter, Herbert's campaign spokesman. "So he's giving the taxpayer more bang for their buck while accomplishing the goals of the Office of Ethnic Affairs more efficiently and better overall."
But leaders of various Utah minority communities, who are backing Cooke, said they haven't seen any outreach or interaction with the new commission since it was created. Elimination of the office was a loss, they said.
"If you were to go to the leaders in the communities, the clergy or people who are out there, and ask them if there is contact [with the governor's office], if there is a bridge there, they will tell you 'no,' " said Elias McGraw, a former police officer and Democrat running for the Utah House in Kearns.
Noor Ul-Hasan, a member of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, said eliminating the Office of Ethnic Affairs saved just $500,000 a year, a fraction of what the Utah Department of Transportation paid to settle a contract dispute.
"Five hundred thousand is a trickle. Why the heck did he have to take that away from us? That's all we had," she said.
Cooke also said Herbert should have signed The Utah Compact, a statement signed by community and religious leaders calling for compassionate immigration laws. Cooke signed it on Oct. 1 and said he would veto legislation inconsistent with The Compact.
Herbert has said he didn't sign it because he has articulated his own principles regarding immigration and thinks it is unnecessary for him to sign it.
Also, Cooke said, the governor's office should do more to help bring down high dropout rates among minority students and to support minority-owned small businesses.