Gov. Gary Herbert got a couple of pieces of good news on Tuesday. One, of course, was his huge election victory over Democratic challenger Peter Corroon. The other was a front-page story in this newspaper that said Utah's sales-tax collections are beginning to regain strength.
Herbert, who assumed office when former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. resigned to accept a position as U.S. ambassador to China, now has won the office in his own right. That releases him from any perceived obligation to continue the priorities of his predecessor. From now on, the Herbert administration will be a sum total of his own policies and priorities, and the good news for him is he may be starting on the wave of a resurgent economy.
A few weeks ago, Forbes.com released a report that listed Utah as the top state in the nation in which to do business. As if to echo that choice, sales tax receipts are up by 11.5 percent during the first quarter of this fiscal year over the same time a year ago, which was just about the low point of the state's economic downturn.
A year ago, Herbert was criticized by some for presenting a state budget proposal that assumed state revenues would begin to expand again. That proved to be too optimistic. Now, however, such a projection might be more realistic, even if growth is slow and steady. It is unquestionably easier to govern when you don't have to wrestle with deep cuts, hiring freezes and exercises to determine which programs should be cut the most.
Herbert and several other Republican candidates in Utah, including 2nd Congressional District candidate Morgan Philpot, who fared better than expected, were unquestionable beneficiaries of a Republican wave that washed over much of the nation on Tuesday. Corroon was criticized for a negative campaign tactic that likely hurt his chances, but he may not have had a chance to begin with given the mood of the electorate. Still, it is worth noting that Utah voters showed they weren't content to simply vote a straight ticket. Democrats, such as Rep. Jim Matheson, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, district attorney candidate Sim Gill and County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, all achieved victory Tuesday.
But Republicans have held a stronghold on Utah politics for several decades now. This year, the party's nominating process, including its convention rules and closed primaries, were the subject of criticism. Incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett was eliminated without qualifying for a primary election. A study by pollster Dan Jones & Associates and the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics found that neither party's convention delegates were representative of their adherents at-large.
Neither victory nor an apparently high voter turnout should be taken for granted. It's up to Tuesday's winners to represent and govern successfully to retain the trust they were given, and for the parties to make themselves more representative. We wish them well.
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