The reason? 2016 is also an election year. Herbert has already received a sizeable challenge within his party in the form of Overstock CEO, Jonathan Johnson and, earlier this month, his most viable Democratic challenger, a self-described “non-politician,” healthcare professional Mike Weinholtz, threw his hat into the ring.
Furthermore, Herbert’s State of the State address may receive more national scrutiny than previous addresses. Herbert was recently elevated from the head of the Republican Governors Association to now leads the National Governors Association.
So, with the additional political power and the entry of a new challenger, will there be an equally greater shouldering of responsibility? It certainly appears so, as Herbert took an aggressive tone.
In his address, Herbert led off his declaration of his “outstanding” appraisal with Utah’s “strong” economy. Citing his effort to lead out in the areas of job growth moving unemployment from 8 percent to 3.5 percent in his six years as Governor. Herbert acknowledged, and as Utah Political Capitol reported earlier in the year, prosperity has been uneven and not everyone within the state has been privy to the kind of economic success that has created such prosperity overall; rural areas still struggle with economic development in the transitionary economy the state, nation, and world are currently experiencing.
Herbert acknowledged the enlistment of Senate majority leader Ralph Okerlund (Republican-Monroe) in the effort undertaken by the state’s Rural Partnership Board as part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. To that end, Iron County was singled out for more extraction and “industrial development.
Also in his State of the State address, Herbert asked the Utah legislature to “cut unnecessary red tape in government [and] shrink the size of the state code.” He went on to add “we must streamline government today to allow the 21st-century economy to continue growing uninhibited by outdated laws, rules and regulations,” specifically mentioning two companies that have been restricted in this manner: Zenefits, which provides a new model for providing insurance and Tesla, the company leading the way in electric vehicles.
Governor Herbert also recognized the state’s impoverished citizens with a personal example of Mellowdey Trueblood – a Davis County resident who had expressed her personal concern about how poverty affects the collective intelligence and productive potential of the young minds of Utah. The Governor has deferred questions about increasing the minimum wage by calling out poverty as “an education issue,” a theme he repeated in Wednesday’s speech. Herbert would add that “As Mellowdey has demonstrated and as I believe, it is “education, not entitlement that creates the opportunity for self-reliance.”
Perhaps the biggest policy pushed went to his endorsement of Tier 3 fuels as a remedy for Utah’s environmental concerns, saying that he has “personally met with every refinery in the state,” to obtain their support on converting to the cleaner burning gasoline, with Tesoro already on board. However, Herbert failed to acknowledge the federal government’s role in influencing this objective, he none-the-less signaled alignment with the Obama administration whose Environmental Protection Agency has indicated that the Wasatch Front is an example of an area “uniquely suited” to benefit from this clean advancement.
Never avoiding an opportunity to specifically criticize the Obama administration and the President personally, Herbert aggressively pointed out that “we have a President who thinks that it’s okay to bypass Congress and create laws by executive order. Well, that’s not the way we do it in Utah.” Then continued, “As governor, I will not issue executive orders to bypass you, the legislature or the will of the people.”
As Herbert’s presumed Democratic challenger, Weinholtz was critical of the absolute nature of Herbert’s comments, saying that he would not hesitate to go around the legislative gridlock that has kept more than 100,000 Utahns from having health care, even under the Affordable Healthcare Act as those who fall in the health insurance “donut hole” (those who make too much for Medicaid, but can’t afford health insurance).
“The Governor has failed to lead in that area… he’s either been unwilling or unable to stand up to the legislature and fight for the people of Utah. I believe that the Governor’s first and foremost job is to look out for the well-being of the people of Utah. As long as there are people who are without health care, as long as there are people who are hungry, people who are not getting the education that they deserve, I believe it’s the Governor’s job to lead out in those areas if the legislature is not. (Full Weinholtz audio here)”
(video starts at 12:20 mark)