Touting himself as a “Will Rogers guy” who believes that “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met,” Gov. Gary Herbert introduced himself as chair of the National Governors Association to a gathering at the National Press Club on Friday afternoon. He’s advancing an initiative called States: Finding Solutions, Improving Lives.
“Effective progress in this country lies in the states, not the federal government,” Herbert said. “That’s why I chose to focus on states and what governors are doing each and every day to improve the lives of the people in their states.”
Salt Lake Tribune ace reporter Tommy Burr, who is also vice president of the National Press Club, sat as a guest of honor with the governor, whose speech marked the end of a week of promotion for his initiative.
Touting his catch-phrase that “states are laboratories of democracy,” Herbert noted how the initially limited powers of the federal government have grown over time, at the expense of state autonomy. Given that Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, now is the time to bring balance to that relationship.
“States really are solving problems in innovative ways and we don’t see any of the dysfunction you see here in Washington,” Herbert continued. “The best hope for America is if we get this balance back in place.”
Utah, he said, has been particularly innovative at reducing transportation expenses, which increase productivity and save taxpayer money. But the federal government prohibits the state to spray for the bark beetle, which kills forests and leaves them as a fire hazard.
“Many issues are beyond the capacity of individual states, but the federal government must acknowledge that many issues are better addressed most times by state and local governments,” he continued, noting that the combined budget for all 50 states is $1.7 trillion, but the Federal budget dwarfs that total at $3.9 trillion.
Herbert was also asked to weigh in on a variety of current events.
Regarding the presidential election, he joked, “I don’t want Donald Trump calling me ugly or stupid, so I’ll be kind.” He did not endorse any candidate, but said each had their strengths. He says he understands why outsiders like Trump and Dr. Ben Carson are doing so well in the polls, but expressed a bias toward the governors in the race.
“They can be outsiders with experience,” he said, also joking that he became NGA chair because he was the only governor not running for president.
Many of the problems with the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) was because of the exclusion of input from federal Republican lawmakers and all state lawmakers. Through the whole process, he asked, “When will states be invited? We would have had a better Affordable Care Act if we’d had governors participate.”
Solving the recent rash of mass shootings requires a change in culture, with programs like First Lady Jeanette Herbert’s Uplift Families that coaches parents.
“That’s more important than a new law,” he said.
Regarding the recent efforts to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, he said that the videos that have come to light “should cause us all a bit of pause.”
Saying that Planned Parenthood does some good, Herbert suggested that dispersing the money it receives to other resources would be better for women’s health while not performing abortions.
The event’s moderator interrupted the flow of questions to share the news that Rep. Jason Chaffetz was running for Speaker of the House and ask Herbert to react.
“I’m glad he’s not running for governor!” Herbert joked, then added an endorsement: “I say, go Jason!”