Well, probably a number of things. But getting on TV quick is always a smart move – reach out to the people and give them assurance that you take their concerns seriously and are working to solve the problem.
GOP Gov. Gary Herbert accelerated that process this week, going on TV with what’s known as a “public service announcement,” talking about the serious nature of the Wasatch Front’s bad air pollution this year and how everyone needs to work together toward a solution.
In all, the TV and radio spots, part of a three-part public advertising campaign that started last summer, are costing $60,000, the governor’s office told UtahPolicy.
Herbert barely mentioned the terrible air quality in his State of the State address, and only then to say that all Utahns needed to work for a solution, not just government.
It didn’t go over very well, and the governor was criticized in local media for the oversight.
Some Republicans who may be looking to run for governor in 2016 (Herbert has not said whether he’ll run again or not) and certainly the Utah Democratic Party have been bashing him since.
There’s been several small public protests on Capitol Hill over air quality, with some flowing into the governor’s reception area.
For sure, Herbert needed some good press on the issue, besides springtime weather clearing the smog.
And so comes the new TV ad. The ads are running on KSL-TV Channel 5, KSTU Fox 13, and KUTV Channel 2. They are also running on KSL Radio and KUER public radio. Mainly the ads are running during newscasts, the governor’s office said.
The ads are paid for out of the Utah Department of Transportation’s TravelWise public relations effort – so the cost is picked up by taxpayer dollars.
TravelWise web site is found here.
Two UtahPolicy sponsors, Zions Bank and Overstock.com, are partners in TravelWise.
The current TV/radio campaign is actually in three parts – the first during last summer’s Olympic coverage; the second came last fall, with some spots in movie theaters; and the third was always scheduled for February, the governor’s office told UtahPolicy Tuesday.
Since the February TV spot was already cut, TravelWise folks were able to put up Herbert’s video overlaying the original content for little extra money. (Herbert was not originally scheduled to be in the February TravelWise TV spots.)
The three-part TravelWise campaign – aimed at getting individuals and small businesses to change their employee travel habits – cost $60,000 and is only one part of a multi-level effort to better air quality along the Wasatch Front, the governor’s office said in an email to UtahPolicy.
TravelWise uses various hi-tech systems to encourage Utah commuters and residents to drive their vehicles less and use public transportation and/or other means to move from place to place – thus helping with air quality.
It’s always an iffy issue of when it is appropriate for the governor to use public dollars to communicate with citizens, and when it is best to use outside funds – like his personal political action committee – to expend the money.
Since Herbert is just two months into his own four-year term, and doesn’t face any election for three years, it would be hard for political opponents to claim he’s electioneering with the TV spot paid for with tax dollars.
On the public policy front, it’s a smart move by Herbert to get an ad out now showing him talking about fighting the bad air problem.
He wasn’t looking too good in his initial responses to the really bad air quality in December, January and February.
It was one of the worst spells for dangerous pollution levels trapped in Utah northern valleys by air inversions.
We didn’t get storms strong enough to clear out the pollution and ended up on network national news programs detailing our dangerous air.
In a press availability on Tuesday, the governor, just back from three days in Washington, D.C., where he met with other governors and President Barack Obama about federal budget problems, said this winter’s air quality has been especially bad.
Last year, he noted, Salt Lake County was out of air quality compliance only one day. So far this winter we’ve seen more than 20 days where the air quality was above EPA acceptable levels.
So it’s only natural that the media and public complain more this winter than last.
Herbert said he’s not a Johnny Come Lately to air quality concerns. “We’ve held press conferences, talked about this months before” the winter depressions.
“It’s not that we’re behind the curve” of public concern, Herbert said in answer to a UtahPolicy question about the new TV ads.
Is the new TV ad good politics?
Yes, said Herbert. “It’s good politics to have people know not only that we are concerned, but we are aware and understand the issue. Good politics, (yes) but good politics based on good actions and good results.”
It’s always better to be out front on an issue people really care about. But if you’re caught short, pull out the stops to let folks know you aren’t just sidestepping their concerns.