Utahns are always pioneering. That is the one message that the governors meeting in Utah for the National Governor's Association annual conference should take away from this weekend in our great state.
We're justly proud of the courage, faith, hard work and commitment that brought waves of pioneers into these scenic mountain valleys. They were a resilient and frugal people who had to live by their brawn and their wits.
But the Utah pioneers were not individualist fortune seekers drawn to the west because of gold and silver — they were a people who cherished community, faith and the enormous accomplishments that accrued from working together.
Many of the characteristics that helped settle this state continue to run deep within Utah's cultural and political psyche. They help to explain many of Utah's stellar results.
Undoubtedly the attendees at this year's NGA — the kind of policy experts who closely follow state-based rankings — know that Utah is No. 1 on many prestigious state rankings, whether it is Forbes magazine's Pew Center on the State's government performance project, or the American Legislative Exchange Council's economic outlook.
They know that the Brookings Institution found Salt Lake City's workers the most productive in the nation and that Fortune Magazine named Salt Lake as one of the 15 best cities in the world for doing business
But they may not appreciate just how many times Utah appears in top lists for things such as the arts, health, happiness, higher education, transit, tourism, utility costs and volunteerism.
Someone who poignantly appreciates the Beehive State's strong overall performance is Utah's own Gov. Gary Herbert, local host of this year's NGA conference. Herbert has helped lead Utah out of our Great Recession with a balanced budget, no tax increases and a coveted triple-A bond rating.
But more important than appreciating and touting Utah's strengths, Herbert has a clear understanding of why it is that Utah is doing so well and what kind of public policies foster such sound outcomes.
Herbert understands that Utah's pioneering heritage of frugality extends to government and that, in his words, "Our people expect fiscal responsibility. They themselves are trying to live within their means and they expect their government to do the same."
Herbert understands that the pioneering initiatives of today, often represented in entrepreneurial business activity, demand certainty and common sense with regard to taxes and regulation. "Government doesn't create jobs," says Herbert. "It doesn't create wealth. It doesn't expand the economic pie. We try to keep government involvement limited and empower the private sector."
Herbert understands the pioneering spirit that values individual liberty, but he links such liberty directly with that pioneering insistence on individual responsibility. "People are free to choose correctly, but we venerate individual responsibility."
When pressed on what he means by this, Herbert gives the example of how to care for those who are down and out. "When you see someone in trouble, the first call ought not be to the government, it ought to be to ourselves and our neighbors."
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And it is this pioneering sense of neighborliness and community that infuses Herbert's understanding of Utah's accomplishment which differentiates his approach from some conservative rhetoric. Although values like liberty and property are important, his policy ecosystem is not Darwinian survival of the fittest. Instead, it is charmingly Tocquevillian in its appreciation for volunteerism and civil society.
In a rapidly innovating world, everyone faces challenging frontiers. Utahns just happen to know a thing or two about living on the frontier and the qualities that make for successful pioneering. We hope those characteristics can provide an example to state policy makers from across the country who have now seen our accomplishments first hand. Happy trails!