GOP Gov. Gary Herbert personally confirmed Thursday that he will seek re-election in 2016.
Speculation about Herbert’s intent, the governor said, led him to tell about 50 “core supporters” at a breakfast meeting Wednesday that he was in for a third gubernatorial race.
In his monthly KUED Channel 7 press conference, Herbert said there was a possibility that he could change his mind.
And he carefully said that this was not his official re-election statement. That will probably come sometime next year.
Still, when you tell your main financial and political backers, as The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday afternoon, you will run in 2016, most likely you will.
If Herbert runs and wins he will be only the third Utah governor to run three times and achieve re-election.
The late Democratic Gov. Cal Rampton won three terms in the late 1960s and 1970s. Rampton served all terms – 12 years in office.
Former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt ran and won three times – 1992, 1996 and 2000. But Leavitt resigned late in his third term to become EPA director in the George W. Bush administration.
So Leavitt served about 11-and-a-half years in office.
Former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was only several months into his second four-year term when he decided to leave to become U.S. ambassador to China in the Obama administration.
Herbert was lieutenant governor, and so stepped up. By law, Herbert had to run for re-election to serve out Huntsman’s final two years – a 2010 race.
Then Herbert ran for his own four-year term in 2012, winning easily.
A 2016 re-election would mean Herbert ran, and won, three gubernatorial elections. But because his first win was for only a two-year term, ultimately Herbert would serve just over 11 years in office – not the full 12 years like Rampton.
Utah has no term limits for state officeholders, so Herbert could even run in 2020, if he wins in two years and wishes to do so.
But the governor was not talking about that Thursday – he was talking 2016. “That is a possibility. I’m thinking about doing that very seriously. I told my supporters (Wednesday) my intention is to run again in 2016.
“But this is not a formal announcement.”
Herbert said as of now he has no special fundraisers planned – but will go ahead with his regular PAC events for the rest of this year.
In 2012 in his formal campaign committee he raised $2.5 million and spent $2.1 million.
His PAC, the Governor’s Leadership PAC, as of two weeks ago had $613,840 in cash, with his major fundraisers still to come this calendar year.
Herbert said he won’t go into “campaign mode” until some time in 2015 – when he will conduct greater fund raising in preparation for the 2016 race.
And it’s a race that will likely see Herbert face a serious challenge within his own Republican Party.
Already House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has been critical of several of Herbert’s actions – including saying he is an “inaction figure” in the governor’s office and that his Medicaid expansion program, Healthy Utah, is a “sham.”
Jonathan Johnson, head of Utah-based Overstock.com, is also looking at the race. (Overstock.com, an online retailer, is a sponsor of UtahPolicy.)
And others could join up as well.
Lockhart is retiring from the Legislature this year, giving her two years out of government to fund raise and organize without having any legislative liabilities in 2015 and 2016.
She has said that Medicaid expansion is too important an issue to decide in summer special session – which Herbert said Thursday he still hopes to call as he deals with the Obama administration seeking any number of waivers to Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
He told reporters Thursday after the televised press conference ended that he had around 36 individual issues that he needs worked out with Obama Health and Human Services officials – with agreements on all but around 20.
“And we’re talking every week” and Herbert is still optimistic that all can be achieved.
While some lawmakers may want to expand Medicaid to low-income folks that earn up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, it is clear that Obama officials won’t go that low.
To get Healthy Utah to work – and get $258 million in federal aid annually – Utah and other states will have to meet the 138 percent of poverty bar set in Obamacare.
And Herbert said he’s ready to go there, as long as his main negotiating issue – that those lower-income Utahns have to be employed or actively looking for work – to get the Healthy Utah aid.
Herbert said he meets at least once a year “with my core supporters – the Wednesday meeting was not out of the ordinary.”
But he felt he had to tell them that he’s planning on running in 2016 so 1) they would know his intentions and 2) they would not look for some other “horse to back” as several other Republicans are making noises today about running for governor in 2016.
As it stands now – and unless changed by the 2015 or 2016 Legislature – Utah has no primary election run off system.
That means if, say, three strong Republicans got on the 2016 party primary ballot, a winner could emerge with 34 percent to 40 percent of the primary vote and be the party nominee.
Some states – like Mississippi – have primary run offs.
And long-time Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., finished second to a Tea Party challenger a month ago in the first round of the GOP primary, but then won on Tuesday – capturing the Republican Party the nomination and almost certainly another term in office.
Even without primary runoffs, Utah has had two recent gubernatorial elections where the winner didn’t get 50 percent of the vote.
In 1988, Gov. Norm Bangerter won re-election in a three-way race with 40 percent of the vote. And Leavitt won his first race in 1992 with around 42 percent of vote, again in a three-way general election.
Finally, Herbert spoke at some length Thursday about the 10th Circuit Court’s decision this week that Utah’s constitutional same-sex marriage ban is illegal – the first appellate court to do so.
Herbert said Utah needs to stick with the appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, to get a final result and resolve the same-sex marriage issue in Utah and America.
He expects a split decision in the high court, and doesn’t predict how it will turn out.
“Like I always say, the Supreme Court may not always be right, but they are always last.” And the nine justices will, probably next June, decide same sex marriage in the U.S.
Herbert said he supports Utah’s law – which not only bans gay marriage but goes even further and says the Legislature nor citizens can create any civil union legal structure that gives gays and lesbians marriage-like rights.
He added that his person opinions on this issue don’t matter. That as the leader of the executive branch, it is his responsibility to uphold all legal laws.
And if Utahns had decided to support gay marriage, and that was challenged in the courts, he would fight to uphold that law, as well.
No matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on gay marriage, that will be the law of Utah and of the nation, and Herbert said he would work to uphold that law, also.