So, Gary Herbert gives his third gubernatorial address, and, the governor says, Utah couldn’t be in better shape.
And that may well be true.
Certainly Herbert – only the third man in Utah history to win three elections for governor – believes so, and he won convincing ballot-box victories in the 2016 GOP primary and general election.
“I love Utah,” Herbert told an overflow Capitol Rotunda crowd during his swearing in Wednesday morning. (He took the oath of office earlier, along with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Auditor John Dougall, and Treasurer David Damschen).
“I always have,” added Herbert.
And he should; for few would have believed that Herbert, a Utah County commissioner, would have scaled such elective heights.
But he’s taken his political shots when they came to him. And now he will be one of the longest serving governors in the Beehive State.
Utah is leading the nation in several economic and quality of life areas “because of the genuine goodness” of its people, Herbert said.
Delivering The Salt Lake Tribune as a boy (he will not run for office again, so can publicly reveal this secret to archconservatives), Herbert said he never imagined he would one day appear on its front pages as governor.
Maybe as a scrappy sports figure, even playing for the New York Yankees, but never as a politician, he added. (Herbert lettered in several sports at Orem High School).
With seven children – young Gary being one — the Herbert family saw some difficult times – his mother patching his pants, his father working several jobs.
Hard work was instilled in Herbert there. And he’s never been afraid of it, he said.
But achieving cooperative goals was also part of that early life. And perhaps that may be one reason Herbert has not challenged the GOP-controlled Legislature often over the last seven-and-a-half years.
Herbert said he sees Utah’s spirit in the legislative process.
“Lawmakers – with very different ideas for what policies might be best for the state – come together, share ideas, listen to one another, meet with constituents, and then reach consensus agreement on critical issues that affect everyday lives,” he said.
Oh, there have been some exceptions – like his Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan, which he got through the state Senate only to see it stall in the more conservative House.
But even here Herbert did not threaten to veto budgets, or call lawmakers back into special sessions to move on it or face political consequences.
Healthy Utah died, and a much smaller plan patched together by the GOP House may yet be revisited as President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress try to repeal and replace Obamacare.
In the next two years Herbert may face his most difficult political challenge: A citizen-generated income tax hike movement.
And some are wondering how he will handle the so-far popular demand of raising the 5 percent flat rate to 5.85 percent – generating $750 million more a year for public schools. As of now, he says he’s against it.
But Herbert didn’t mention the upcoming tax battle in his address.
Rather, following the example of some previous governors (this was my 10th such affair), Herbert gave examples of some new and older Utah citizens, how they overcame difficulties to build their lives here, and ultimately succeed.
Fighting fires (prayers brought rain, he said), reopening national parks when Congress shut down the government, punishing wind and rain storms, all brought Utahns together, often doing more in their own communities than government ever could.
Or, at other times, working with local and state officials to build a better state and relieve suffering, he said.
“I have seen you (Utah citizens) invoke the aid of heaven when human efforts have reached their limit,” he said.
While Washington, D.C., wallows in “divisiveness, polarization, incivility, and lack of respect,” Utah and its people “continue to stay above such division and cynicism.”
Utahns have smiles on their faces, are friendly, “contentment in your eyes” and display an “infectious optimism,” Herbert said.
Let us accomplish what can be done, instead of “bickering about what can’t be done.”
Build bridges – both real and politically – like Utah’s pioneers did, said Herbert.