OPINION – I’ve never been a fan of Gov. Gary Herbert.
I met Herbert shortly after Jon Huntsman Jr. announced him as his running mate during his first gubernatorial campaign.
Although I liked Huntsman, I never got a warm feel for Herbert even though I covered him through the 2004 campaign.
The two were a very odd couple indeed.
Huntsman was pleasant, outgoing, witty, bright.
Herbert was humorless, unfriendly, unyielding.
But, he served a purpose and that was to shore up support from the more conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.
I had reservations when Huntsman became the U.S. Ambassador to China in 2009 and Herbert stepped up as his replacement.
I remain unimpressed. Huntsman was a savvy governor who understood the needs of Utah and its people. He worked diligently to represent all of the people in the state, had a handle on the state’s economic requirements, and was big on education.
Herbert was just kind of there.
Make no mistake, Huntsman was a politician, but he wasn’t mired in partisan dogma and was always a straight shooter, sometimes choosing the unpopular path.
His politics are self-serving and, quite frankly, hypocritical.
There was the scandal, of course, surrounding approximately $100,000 in campaign donations he was given during his first gubernatorial campaign by three donors who eventually wound up with fat state contracts.
The hypocritical thing?
On Thursday he reacted predictably to the news that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that overturned Utah’s laws banning same-sex marriage. He said he will continue to press the state’s appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
During his monthly televised news conference on KUED-TV Thursday, Herbert said his personal views on the issue are not relevant because as governor, it’s his job to defend the state’s laws. That’s why, he said, he would press on with the appeal.
While it sounded good at the time, it just doesn’t wash. Herbert has history here and people will remember that he had two attorneys general who publicly stated that they would not prosecute Utah’s anti-bigamy/anti-polygamy laws. He did nothing to encourage them to defend the state’s laws and allowed them to turn a blind eye to polygamy across the state.
But, now, he is spending a fortune in taxpayer dollars on a court fight he is sure to lose.
Meanwhile, he continues to work the crowd, looking to feed more dollars into his campaign machine, which he disclosed will ramp up for another run in 2016.
Herbert revealed his plans to seek re-election during a high-powered breakfast meeting Wednesday with some money men, lobbyists, and party loyalists.
The political parsing game, of course, was played out by the governor’s spokeswoman who, after word got out, said Herbert did not announce he was running. The spokeswoman tried to spin it to indicate that what the governor actually said was that he is keeping his options open and leaning toward another bid, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Those in attendance disputed the political-speak.
One source who attended the breakfast, according to the Trib, burst into laughter when told of the spokeswoman’s remarks. “They’re not being honest. It was unequivocal,” said another. Multiple sources independently told the Tribune that the governor was explicit that he will run. “His words were: I am running and I need your support,” said an individual who was at the breakfast.
We understand, of course, that these early indicators are geared toward raising money and that the really big announcement will be a well-thought event with lots of cameras, media, and loyal supporters. The run-up to that announcement will be a concentrated effort to clean house and bury some of those skeletons hidden in the closet to tidy up the image.
I worry, though, because Utah made some real progress during the Huntsman administration.
There was an understanding that the state needed to move forward, that venture capital was necessary to promote industry, and that education was the engine that would propel the state forward.
I read statements from Herbert about wanting to take back federal land and bring it under state control; to suppress the rights of same-sex couples who wish only to enter into a legal, moral commitment; to ignore the needs, wants, and desires of those who don’t necessarily belong to the same club as he does.
I haven’t seen a lot of forward movement, which is frustrating, particularly after the Huntsman era when the doors were thrown open to welcome visitors, new business, and those looking for a change of pace, location, and scenery. And, I don’t see Herbert as having built a rapport with Washington, D.C. as Huntsman did.
At this point, the best opponent the Democrats could run against Herbert would be Jim Matheson, who is hanging it up after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2001.
Matheson has the right credentials. He is, on the whole, regarded as a centrist with deep conservative roots when it comes to fiscal and social issues. Most importantly, he has put enough distance between himself and Democratic Party leadership – i.e., former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Obama – to appeal to Utah voters.
Matheson would have enough time between now and then to build up a war chest and campaign team to challenge Herbert if he desires.
I certainly would like to see a scenario like this shake down with the Democrats finally running a viable, experienced candidate for high office.
Perhaps this scenario has already played out in the minds of Herbert’s handlers, leading him to unofficially start his campaign.
There’s still a lot of ground to cover between now and then, to be sure, and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes down.
But, it would be nice to hear another political voice raised, which has not happened here in a long time.
No bad days!
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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