Thursday, August 27, 2009

Utah Governor Gary Herbert Holds First Press Conference, Opposes Higher Taxes And Special Rights For Gays, Believes Parents Responsible For Sex Ed

On August 27th, 2009, Utah's new Governor Gary Herbert held his first news conference since taking office, and immediately lived up to his conservative credentials. Among the highlights: The Governor expressed opposition to piling new taxes on the population, and also disapproved of Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's attempt to extend official nondiscrimination protection to gays and transgenders, characterizing it as "special rights". Media stories published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, KSTU Channel 13, and KSL Channel 5. Good audio report on KCPW 88.3 FM. Read the full transcript of the press conference at KUED Channel 7. KSL news video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of

Taxes and gay rights dominated the exchange, although the Governor was also questioned about Rep. Lynn Hemingway's (D-Salt Lake) proposal to create two different health classes for sex education, as well as citizens initiatives about redistricting and legislative ethics. The ongoing squabble with Nevada over the Snake River water aquifer was briefly touched on.

On taxes, Governor Herbert expressed his opposition in principle to raising taxes during an economic downturn. He believes the mission of government should be to help stimulate recovery and subsequent growth. He also opposes further hikes in targeted taxation, such as gouging smokers. Herbert stressed that not all the numbers are in yet, and reminded people that there's $514 million (his words; the Deseret News says it's $519 million) in the state's rainy day fund. But he would not guarantee no tax increase in 2010.

In regards to sex education, Governor Herbert has no problem with choice, but believes the primary responsibility for this lies with parents, and he doesn't want sex education to promote any radical agenda.

But it was Salt Lake's proposed nondiscrimination ordinance that drew the lengthiest exchange. Here's an excerpt of the transcript posted on the KUED Channel 7 website:

ROD DECKER, KUTV-2: Salt Lake City, the Becker administration, is talking about a non-discrimination ordinance to specifically say one can’t discriminate against people on the basis of sexual preference in housing and employment. Some legislators are saying, if they do that, we will want to enact a state wide standard that may well be different from the Salt Lake standard. Would you support a state wide standard if Salt Lake City enacts a non-discrimination ordinance?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I haven’t seen the ordinance, so I don’t know what the ramifications of that ordinance are, and I hate to speculate on what I would do without having a chance to read it, understand it, and see what the ramifications or the potential unintended consequences of that would be. I believe in local government. I believe that we ought to build ordinances and policies, ground-up. Bottom-up, not top-down. And most instances government closest to the people reflects the people’s will a lot better. So I would be patient and wait and see what comes up. The legislature will react as they typically do on these issues, but I’m not prepared to weigh in on that yet.

LISA RILEY ROCHE, DESERET NEWS: What would you have a problem with, Governor, in terms of an anti-discrimination ordinance based on sexual preference?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well I don’t think we should discriminate against people. I think people ought to be treated with respect. There’s nothing that causes me as an employer to say “well, I don’t want to hire you because—“ if you’re willing to follow the rules of my business and represent me in a fair and effective way. So I think we need to not discriminate against people when it comes to, you know, civil rights issues. I am reluctant for anybody to be put into a protected class. That seems to be where this road sometimes goes down, and that causes me some concern. But you know, we don’t have to have a rule for everybody to do the right thing. We ought to just do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and don’t have a law that punishes us if we don’t.

JEFF ROBINSON, KCPW 88.3: But then again, Governor, we already do for religion and race and ethnicity. So why not expand it? If you don’t believe anyone should be discriminated against.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, where do you stop? I mean that’s the problem of going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we’re going to have a special offer blue-eyed blonds. And I’m not sure that that’s the case. Or people who are losing their hair a little bit, there’s a special classification that we put them in.

JEFF ROBINSON, KCPW 88.3: I would support that.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: See, there’s some support for about anything we put out there. And I’m just saying, you know, we end up getting bogged down sometimes with minutia of things the government has really no role to be involved with.

ROBERT GEHRKE, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: So should sexuality, sexual orientation be a protected class?

Interesting dichotomy. Governor Herbert opposes Salt Lake's proposed ordinance, but he's not particularly comfortable with the concept of the state legislature routinely overriding local laws. He's a small government advocate.

Finally, Governor Herbert doesn't seem to comfortable with the proposed citizens' initiatives on redistricting and ethics reform. He's concerned they promise more than they deliver. Citing California's experience with initiatives, he points out how conflicting initiatives can create conflicting laws. Other states have experienced undesirable blowback from initiatives; Alaska's ill-advised cruise ship initiative in 2006 has now caused several cruise lines to cancel 2010 visits to the state, and Alaska's draconian executive branch ethics law encouraged Sarah Palin's political enemies to spam her with 19 or so ethics complaints, none of which were substantiated. So Governor Herbert's skepticism about the value of citizens' initiatives is well-warranted.

On global warming, Governor Herbert called for less dogma and more debate.

Reaction: In reviewing comments appended to several of the media stories, particularly the 540 comments appended to KSL's story, a majority of people are supportive of Governor Herbert's agenda, and many explicitly support his opposition to Salt Lake's proposed gay rights ordinance. The gays pushed the nondiscrimination and marriage issue too strongly, and now backlash is erupting. One additional advantage for Herbert; he does have more mainstream credibility than Chris Buttars, who has allowed himself to be somewhat marginalized.

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