Gubernatorial candidate visits Southern Utah, speaks on economy, public lands

ST. GEORGE – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter S. Cooke was in Southern Utah earlier this week meeting with potential voters and speaking with elected officials in the region.

For individuals unfamiliar with the man’s resume, Cooke is a retired Major General of the U.S. Army Reserves, is a CEO and small business owner, and has served as Utah’s Director of Economic Development under former Gov. Scott Matheson; he also identifies himself as an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This blended background, Cooke said, will help bring balance to how Utah is run.

While Cooke is running on a myriad of issues, two he addressed specifically while speaking with St. George News were Utah’s economy and public lands.

Photo courtesy of Jake Rush, Deputy Campaign Manager, Cooke for Governor Campaign

While Cooke served as Utah’s Director of Economic Development, he said the state was routinely featured in national magazines as a great place for business. However, he compared those studies to a car that, while looking great on the surface, the inside told a different story.

“Open the hood,” Cooke said. Closer inspection of the car’s engine, or in this case the state’s economy, would show key indicators that not all is well.

“You need to be honest with the people,” he said. Cooke referenced Gov. Gary Herbert, saying Herbert focuses solely on selling how great the state’s economy is to the public, instead of addressing apparent troubles the state is facing. “That’s salesmanship,” he said, “not leadership.”

“I’m not attacking, Gov. Herbert,” Cooke said, but did say the governor wasn’t providing all of the facts concerning Utah’s economy and employment.

Herbert praised the creation of 30,000 jobs during the 2011 fiscal year, Cooke said, yet the governor did not mention the 93,000 jobs lost since 2008. Despite somewhat of a rebound in job creation, Cooke stated on his website that many of Utah’s pre-recession jobs “are not coming back … (those) jobs are gone for good.”

Cooke also said Utah workers were paid 10 percent below the national average. According to his website, “Utah workers made about $4,000 less than the average American worker even before wages fell lower last year.”

Cooke’s proposed solution to Utah’s economic woes is his “Utah1” development plan. Points of the plan involve the state working more closely with regional and municipal entities.

“We (the state and local governments) will team up – we will work in unison – to craft one plan with specific benchmarks for growth,” Cooke’s  website states.

Recruiting, retaining and propping up small businesses, as well as building public-private partnerships in the state are  among the points featured in Cooke’s Utah1 plan.

One point of the plan also includes holding public meetings for economic development in each of Utah’s 29 counties, so the people, and not just elected officials and business owners, are a part of the process.

Concerning Southern Utah specifically, Cooke said his cabinet would hold meetings in the region on a quarterly basis.

“(Washington County) is a growing community,” he said. “It’s a fantastic mixture of what our state can do.”

On public lands

“I don’t see the need for a lawsuit,” Cooke said, citing Utah’s controversial transfer of public lands bill, HB 148. The bill was signed by Herbert in March, and requires the federal government to transfer management of particular public lands over to the state by the end of 2014. If the federal government does not comply, some state legislators have raised the possibility of litigation.

It has been estimated that a lawsuit would cost Utah taxpayers as much as $3 million if pursued.

According to his website, as governor, Cooke will veto any “legislation authorizing frivolous, expensive and embarrassing message lawsuits against the federal government.”

“If you’re going to sue, you have to have a reason,” Cooke said.

State Rep. Ken Ivory, the author of HB 148, has expressed his reasoning for why a transfer of public lands is a valid demand, and why a lawsuit may be justified. Cooke does not agree with Ivory’s assessment. Moreover, he said he does not believe the state has a viable plan in place for taking over public lands.

“It’s unfair leadership to charge forward (without a plan)” he said.

If elected, Cooke would craft a plan that would engage the federal government over public lands concerns, rather than threatening it with a lawsuit. “I want (common) understanding,” he said.

After serving in the military for 39 years, Cooke said he had learned how to make realistic plans with achievable goals. He was also taught how to work with people with different ideologies, such as other high-ranking officers from separate branches of the military.

It is his combination of planning and problem-solving skills gained from military service and an understanding of economic principles honed by being a small business owner and a former director of economic development, Cooke said, that will help “bring balance to the thought processes” that currently dominate Utah’s political landscape.

For a full range of the issues addressed by Cooke, visit the Cooke for Governor Website.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2012, all rights reserved

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