Mike Terry, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is on the road to economic recovery, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday in his first State of the State speech since being elected governor.
"I get it — and I know that you get it, too," Herbert told the state senators and representatives gathered in the House chambers to hear his annual address. "As elected officials, each of us has been given a mandate and the voice of the Utah voter rings loud and clear: strengthen Utah's economy."
He pledged to focus on education, energy development, job creation and what he called "the spirit of self-determination" in the face of "federal domination" from Washington on health care and other issues.
"I firmly believe — if we as a state fail to vigorously fight to protect and defend our rights under the Constitution, those rights will invariably be seized and usurped by the federal government," Herbert said, admonishing Washington that Utah is "a state not a colony."
The words energized the many conservative lawmakers in the audience, who gave the governor a number of standing ovations throughout the speech.
"It's something the Legislature — you could tell by the applause — feels very strongly about," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said. She especially liked his use of the word "colony" to describe how Washington sees Utah. "That was a great line. I might use it."
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, appreciated the tough talk, too. "I'd have advised him to be even stronger," Waddoups said. "I think that's a message that resonates with the Legislature, and with the citizens of Utah, with western states in general and in fact, with most states."
Even Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said he appreciated hearing the governor's frustration in dealing with the federal government on public lands issues "and how it's important for us to assert our place in that conversation."
But House Minority Leader Dave Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said he did not like the turn the speech took. "The focus should be on doing what right for the states, and not state's rights," Litvack said. "And at the first part of the speech, that's where the focus was."
The governor noted in November's election, "the people sent a message that federal domination must give way to mutual collaboration."
Washington has ignored that mandate, Herbert said, describing how the U.S. Department of the Interior "secretly prepared an order to announce a new wild lands designation on public lands" without public input, a policy he called "flat-out wrong."
Herbert said it is also unacceptable that the federal government "intrudes in Utah classrooms, while it fails to protect and secure our borders." He said immigration reform is an example of where the states can step forward to fill the void left by federal inaction.
The governor called for everyone involved in immigration reform to remember to "respect each other — even when we disagree, to engage in civil dialog, to temper passion with reason" and to come up with the best outcome.
Litvack said it was important for the governor to talk about civility in the speech. "We have a responsibility to show the community that you can sit down and talk," the minority leader said. "I think the governor is setting that tone in his speech."
Herbert did not directly talk about the biggest issue separating him from his fellow Republicans this session — the state budget — other than to note his is keeping money in the Rainy Day fund. The majority party is calling for 7 percent across-the-board budget cuts, while the governor's $11.9 billion spending plan keeps state agencies intact.
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