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John Florez: Elect leaders who can lead, give hope and unite

Published: Saturday, Aug. 2 2014 6:48 p.m. MDT

Unless we elect leaders who can lead, give us hope and unite us instead of divide us, we will continue to become a second-class state. Anything less is a recipe for failure.

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It seems a little hypocritical, if not disingenuous, for Utah politicians to rail against accepting federal money when 40 percent ($6 billion) of Utah’s budget comes from the federal government. “Past studies have shown that Utah receives more federal money than it sends to the nation's capital in taxes...” (“Utah too dependent on federal dollars, state auditor warns,” December 3, 2013).

Even so, some state politicians are quick to exploit the paranoia some Utahns have about federal government takeover. It seems those Utahns thrive on using the federal government as a scapegoat to vent what appears to be free-floating fear and anger. Like some zealots on each political extreme, their flexible moral compass seems to drive them to conflicting and self-serving conclusions.

The anti-federal government folks did not want to take money for the federal education program No Child Left Behind (NCLB) because it was federally mandated and resulted in a loss of local control. Then when the state governors and state education officials came up with recommended academic standards that incorporate Common Core, which allowed for local control in education, the anti-federal government ideologues wanted to – get this – go back to NCLB; the federally mandated program. In the meantime, our state legislators seem to be the biggest violators of local control with their micromanaging of our schools.

To show their flexible moral sense, some Utah politicians seem to have no problem taking federal money for highways and transportation. During the federal government shutdown in 2013, they were willing to pay $7 million of state money to the federal government to keep the national parks open with no guarantee of a payback, which prompted Rep. Brad Dee to describe the payment as a "donation." On the other hand, for the last two years, they have opposed accepting federal money for health care for the needy with the excuse they can’t trust the federal government to keep its word. It speaks volumes about their values.

For some, it’s safe to use the federal government as a scapegoat, perhaps because of the fear they have about the economic and social disruption we are experiencing today due to new and rapid technological changes. The institutions we created to help us live and thrive together in past eras are not keeping pace with change, especially our government. As humans, we are doing the human thing, seeking solutions, while some look for the one thing to blame – federal government.

We should take a lesson from the WWII generation. They went to war, sacrificed and came back not complaining; they rolled up their sleeves, and worked together to rebuild our institutions. They didn’t look for someone to blame. Rather, they had faith and confidence in themselves, that by working together they could build the greatest nation in the world. They did, and that’s why they were called, “the greatest generation.”

We had bold leaders then that were not afraid to act, gave us hope, a belief in ourselves and called upon the best in us instead of our fears. They did not wait for polls or committees to act. They did bold things -- created our interstate highways, the GI Bill and the National Science Foundation. We had leaders who pulled us together as a nation with a visionary government we could believe in. We can do the same in Utah.

Unless we elect leaders who can lead, give us hope and unite us instead of divide us, we will continue to become a second-class state. Anything less is a recipe for failure.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast

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