Natalie Gochnour: Gail Miller would make a great governor

By Natalie Gochnour

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 7 2014 1:42 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, July 7 2014 1:42 p.m. MDT

Michael Ballam and Gail Miller talk about Larry H. Miller's commitment to the opera organization.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Gov. Gary Herbert made big political news recently when he told a group of high-placed donors his intention to run in 2016. A source who attended the breakfast at The New Yorker quoted Herbert as saying, “I just want to be very clear. I’m running. I’m announcing that today.” While the governor’s spokesperson later said the governor is keeping all options open, the message sent by the governor was clear — beware potential challengers.

The most frequently mentioned challengers to Herbert are House Speaker Becky Lockhart and local business leader Jonathan Johnson. Both would be intra-party challengers with serious leadership experience. But let’s be clear: Herbert’s stellar economic record and significant business and community support make him a formidable candidate. If he decides not to run, I’d like to throw in another name … a woman who has demonstrated the ability to unite Utahns and influence hundreds of thousands of lives for the better: Gail Miller is this person.

I don’t know Gail well. I’m like most Utahns who know her as the wife of the late Larry Miller and as the owner of the Miller family’s vast business enterprises, including the Utah Jazz. And yet, in the last couple of years, we’ve all gotten to know her better, and we like what we see. Gail Miller is taking Utah to a better place.

In his book Driven, Larry Miller calls Gail a “born caretaker.” He describes at length her propensity to serve. She cared for Larry, their family and their neighborhood, serving in multiple ecclesiastical callings and helping the elderly with their needs. Service is a big part of Gail’s makeup.

Now, the caretaker role she so ably rendered to her family is felt by an entire state as she engages with the important issues of the day. Gail lends her time, resources and leadership to improve education, fight diabetes, support children, help the homeless, sustain arts and culture, increase participation in the democratic process and much more.

I recently attended a business briefing where findings were shared from a random poll of Utahns. Among other items, the poll asked respondents to rate the favorability of community leaders, such as the governor, U.S. senators and congressmen, other elected officials and business leaders.

Jon Huntsman Sr. secured the highest favorability rating of anyone in our state. Gail Miller was a close second, higher than any other business leader, the governor, senators and scores of men included in the survey.

What is it about Gail Miller that makes people hold her in such high regard? You can draw your own conclusions. Here are mine:

First, she’s completely authentic. With Gail, what you see is what you get. Much like her late husband, the private and public Gail is the same. No pretense, just honesty. No games, just truth. When Gail speaks, she speaks from the heart.

Second, she possesses a quiet quality mixed with determination. Gail doesn’t seek attention; she seeks the betterment of our community. And she’s not afraid to take a stand.

Third, in a crazy way, she’s like the rest of us. This is a woman with considerable means who tends a garden, cans fruits and vegetables, shops at Costco and irons and sews. I’m guessing she opens a can of Campbell’s soup from time to time too. For all of her financial success, Gail remains grounded. Money does not define her; her values do.

Just to be clear. I’m confident Gov. Herbert, should he decide to run again, would continue to do a great job. I also think Gail Miller possesses many of the attributes we value in our elected leaders — devotion to community, the ability to solve problems and authenticity. Gail would be a great elected official precisely because she doesn’t seek the limelight. For this reason she’s unlikely to heed my advice, but I still think she’d make a great governor. Even more, I think Larry has a huge smile on his face watching Gail serve this community.

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.

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