SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert celebrated the "Utah spirit" during his inaugural address Wednesday, urging residents to rise above the division and cynicism so strident in modern public life.
Herbert, Utah's 17th governor, enters his second full term leading the state at a time when it is consistently ranked by Forbes as the best place to do business and as one of the best-managed states in the nation.
"By almost any measure, Utah's quality of life and economy are among the best in the nation," he said during the speech at the Capitol. "Of course, we recognize that we have our challenges, and we certainly have room for improvement. But overall and by comparison, Utah is doing exceptionally well."
Herbert and four other state constitutional officers were officially sworn in Monday in a private ceremony to continue uninterrupted leadership at the helm. But the party was Wednesday, with performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a bagpipe band called the Salt Lake Scots. The celebration played out on the 120th anniversary of Utah being granted statehood.
Former Utah Govs. Mike Leavitt and Jon Huntsman Jr. were in attendance to witness Herbert take the oath of office from Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant.
Herbert enters 2017 with a $16.1 billion budget on the table in a state among only 10 in the nation with a AAA bond rating from the three major credit rating agencies.
The state's thriving economy helped propel Herbert to a landslide victory last November.
On Wednesday, Herbert said a key reason people are doing well in the state is because of their "genuine" good nature.
"You may not always see it in yourselves, but the uncommon blend of your humility, your hard work and your willingness to pull together, despite differences, defines the Utah spirit."
A newspaper carrier as a young boy, Herbert said he never dreamed he'd end up on the front page as governor. He daydreamed, instead, of landing on the sports pages as a New York Yankees center fielder playing in the World Series.
One of the governor's special guests Wednesday was Sudanese refugee Yar Kuany Awan, who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Herbert described Awan as a modern-day pioneer who had dodged bullets and warlords to come to the United States and get her citizenship just last month.
"She truly exemplifies that the pioneer spirit is alive and well in Utah today," he said.
Herbert, 69, praised Utah residents for being willing to help themselves and their neighbors, resolving problems that government alone could not solve.
"You have done it in response to fires, floods and other natural disasters," Herbert said, pointing to the people of Davis and Weber counties who pulled together in the aftermath of devastating windstorms and tornadoes.
"I was touched when I read how 85-year-old Dewain Jenkins, along with dozens of his neighbors, showed up with his chainsaw to help Cheryl Davis, a recently widowed neighbor, deal with the loss of her seven mature trees," he said.
Herbert was elected to his second term in November, soundly defeating Democrat Mike Weinholtz. In 2012, he was challenged by Democrat Peter Cooke in a contest that turned out to be no contest at all; Herbert grabbed 69 percent of the vote to Cooke's 27 percent.
In 2009, Herbert — then lieutenant governor — stepped into the role of the state's chief executive after Huntsman was tapped to be the U.S. ambassador to China. In a special election to fill the remainder of Huntsman's term, he withstood a challenge by Peter Corroon, now chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.8 comments on this story
About 1,100 people attended the hourlong ceremony, which also included the administration of the oath of office to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Auditor John Dougall and Treasurer David C. Damschen.
Afterward, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave the benediction.
Herbert and the others were treated to a 19-gun salute in front of the Capitol and a flyover by the Utah National Guard's 2-211th Aviation Battalion.