Monday, May 18, 2009

Spotlight On Utah's Next Governor: Just Who Is Gary Herbert? Will He Stay The Course, Or Take Utah To The Right?

Now that Utahns are recovering from the surprise of Governor Jon Huntsman's decision to resign his office to become U.S. Ambassador to China, public scrutiny is turning to the Lt. Gov, Gary Herbert, who will replace him shortly, pending U.S. Senate confirmation of Huntsman's appointment, which should be little more than a formality. Was Herbert, like most Lite Guvs, just another "ribbon-cutter" who does little more than weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs? Or is there more to him than meets the eye? Which way will he take the state? Will he be much different than Huntsman? The Salt Lake Tribune editorially considers him a "blank slate". You can read Herbert's Wikipedia entry HERE.

According to Herbert himself, he says Utahns should not expect any sharp course corrections from the Huntsman administration. "I don't think there's going to be any dramatic change ... it's a matter of keeping the ship steadily in the right direction," Herbert said on Saturday May 16th. "There will be nothing too dramatic in the Herbert administration compared to the Huntsman administration. I'll be keeping a steady hand on the tiller."

Herbert says he brings "no agenda to the table" and wants to listen to differing viewpoints. He acknowledges differences with Huntsman on issues such as civil unions for gays and the need for an aggressive program to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. But he says the two are "rock-solid the same" in other areas. "I choose to emphasize the similarities such as being fiscally responsible, knowing how to live within our means, what infrastructure means, what good education means," Herbert said. "Even my wife and I don't agree on everything, so it's no surprise Governor Huntsman and I don't agree on everything."

He will also focus on his guiding principles to lead the state until voters pick Huntsman's replacement in the November 2010 election. These principles include limited government, education, low taxation, and empowering the private sector. He offers more detail in this interview with the Provo Daily Herald. Herbert would be required to run in an off-cycle election in 2010 because Huntsman resigned early in his term. There'll be another election in 2012 as well. Watch this KSL news video where Herbert was interviewed on May 16th:

Video Courtesy of

One significant difference between Huntsman and Herbert is that, while Huntsman is an accomplished world traveler, Herbert has spent the bulk of his life in Utah. While world travel in not a necessary prerequisite for gubernatorial service, being in an environment where one's language and race is in the minority can confer a perspective difficult to replicate through a book or computer screen. You don't merely read it; you feel and experience it.

But Gary Herbert has been more than just a ribbon-cutter. Along with his four-plus years as Utah's lieutenant governor, he also spent 16 years as a Utah County commissioner and has served as the president of the Utah Board of Realtors, which is highly political. And Utah Republican Party Chairman Stan Lockhart, who has known Herbert for almost all of his political career, says Herbert has been more than just a "ribbon-cutter", having actually been tasked with some of the more important tasks in the state. Many of those tasks are focused on the nitty-gritty of state government, including transportation and rural issues. He has also overseen the Utah Elections Office during the sometimes rocky transition to electronic voting and expanded online services, such as lobbyist and candidate disclosures.

Herbert has also spent much of his time in office traveling throughout the state to listen to voters outside of the state's population center. He has co-chaired the Governor's Rural Partnership Board, and has stayed close with county commissioners after he became the state's number two. Herbert has discussed water issues with many local leaders, and is prepared to battle surrounding states for water rights.

Many conservative lawmakers, such as Senator Curt Bramble, had high praise for Gary Herbert's accomplishments and political skills. But the gay community, as represented by Rep. Christine Johnson, did express some concern that "gay rights" might stagnate or even move backward. In the final analysis, although Utah will see a different personality, it won't see much of a different policy, considering the number of prominent Utahns who are licking their chops over the prospect of running for Governor in 2010.

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