Gov. Herbert: Utah faces challenges but 'the state of our state is strong'
"I wished he would have been a little bit stronger," Dee said. "I would like to see us move more rapidly."
Second on Herbert's list was what he called asserting Utah's "rightful role as a sovereign state" on defining marriage, expanding Medicaid and managing the public lands now under federal control.
But, the governor said, the state is being hindered by federal overreach.
Referring to last month's decision by a federal judge striking down Utah's voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, he said Utah will "do everything in our power to represent the will of the people."
However, the governor called for civility on the issue and received a prolonged standing ovation from the legislators, state officials and community leaders gathered in the chamber for the speech.
"Let me be clear that while I support traditional marriage and will continue to defend Amendment 3, there is no place in our society for hatred and bigotry," Herbert said.
The governor once again said there needs to be help for the 60,000 Utahns who live below the poverty line but are not covered under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, unless the state agrees to expand Medicaid coverage.
Herbert said he looks forward to working with lawmakers "to create a Utah model for fixing this hole in the safety net," even though Lockhart said in her address to the House on the session's opening day she opposed any expansion of Medicaid.
The speaker, who was widely seen as critical of the governor for his recently announced position on Medicaid expansion and other issues, said she heard some encouraging words from Herbert on Wednesday.
"He talked a lot about a Utah solution, which is where I am," said Lockhart, a potential challenger to Herbert in 2016. Just what that means is yet to be seen, she said.
Niederhauser said it will be difficult to finalize a plan before the 45-day session ends in late March, especially since any proposal will likely need federal approval.
And, he said, the governor still has offered few specifics.
"It may not happen in this session because there's a lot of work to be done," the Senate president said. "There's a lot of meat to put on that bone."
An issue where GOP lawmakers and the governor agree is public lands.
House Republicans are talking about taking over the nearly two-thirds of the state's lands now under federal control. The governor said more effective management of those lands is critical.
He cited Utah's successful effort to reopen its national parks during last year's federal government shutdown by sending the money needed back to Washington, D.C.
"As the opening of our national parks proved, Utah is in the best position to optimize the use of our public lands," Herbert said.
Dee said he believes the governor was reaching out to lawmakers. Some House members have privately expressed concerns that their relationship with the governor may have been damaged by the speaker's recent criticisms.
"I think the governor sent a message to us tonight that he is willing to work very, very closely with us and he understands how critical this issue is to us right now," the House majority leader said.
Herbert told a reporter after the speech that he's always been "very willing to work with anybody and everybody" and that while he's a conservative in principle, his tone is moderate.
"What I do has nothing to do with the speaker or anybody else. I’m doing what I think is right as the governor of the state, governing all the people," he said during a post-speech reception in the rotunda.
Third on the governor's list of challenges was continuing to expand the state's economy. Although he seldom gives a speech without mentioning Utah's national recognition as one of the best-managed states, that wasn't mentioned Wednesday night.
"Utah is doing very well, but the demand for more and higher-quality jobs continues," the governor said, announcing a goal to increase Utah's exports by $9 billion by the end of 2015.
There is a reason, Herbert said, that businesses like Boeing call their Utah workers the "Can-Do Team."
"The reason is not because we don't have challenges. The reason is because we know how to overcome them," he said, urging his audience to "remain committed to making (the state) even stronger."
Contributing: Madeleine Brown
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