A relaxed and smiling Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. settled into his chair as he searched for words to describe how his agenda fared during the 2008 legislative session just hours before the midnight adjournment.
"We don't gloat, nor do we get glum," he offered. "There are occasions to do both."
This session was much more gloat than glum for the governor, who made teacher pay his top priority and was expected to have talked lawmakers in the last few days into giving them an additional $25 million, despite dour revenue projections.
Huntsman also got his way on loosening the state's liquor laws to allow for stronger drinks. And he vetoed a bill that would have limited a governor's ability to sign interstate agreements, with the assurance there would be no attempt at overriding his decision.
Of course, there was give-and-take on those issues. The last-minute extra money for teachers on top of an already hefty raise became a one-time bonus tied to merit pay, a proposal that's extremely unpopular with educators.
The increase in the amount of the primary liquor in a mixed drink from 1 ounce to 1.5 ounces went into a bill forcing so-called "alcohol-pops" out of grocery and convenience stores and into state liquor stores, something the governor initially opposed as damaging to the state's image.
To get lawmakers to agree not to override his promised veto on SB144, Huntsman had to agree to sit down with legislative leaders before signing future interstate agreements like the Western climate initiative he signed with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last fall.
Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the Republican House and Senate leadership and the GOP governor have worked well together this session compared to earlier in Huntsman's term.
"We haven't had the blowups, and we haven't had the animosity," Bramble said.
Back in 2006, tensions were so high between Huntsman and legislative leaders after he talked publicly about bullying them to get what he wanted that the session ended without action on a tax compromise.
The 2007 session was much better for Huntsman, especially after he took the lead on putting together a deal for a soccer stadium in Sandy to keep the Real soccer team from leaving the state, even though most Utahns opposed government money being spent.
"He's learned that in working with both bodies, there are lots of different approaches. Calling us out in public is one," Bramble said. "It hasn't worked out that well," compared to negotiating behind the scenes.
"He's obviously learned. I mean he's doing great," House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said. Curtis said Huntsman only pushed lawmakers hard on the extra money for teacher raises.
"He just didn't weigh in on that many issues. The $25 million was the one he felt passionately about," Curtis said. "It's a non-risky position. I mean, who's going to object about giving teachers more money, a bonus? So is it a good strategy? I guess, yeah."
Huntsman said he spent plenty of time talking to legislative leaders of both parties about his priorities during their at least weekly meetings throughout the session. He disagreed that he only lobbied them hard for teacher pay.
"That's not so," the governor said. "You think they pushed alcohol reform? Hmm?"
Huntsman insisted, "We pushed in all areas. It might be covert pushing as opposed to overt pushing. But you can basically send signals and state priorities. There are all kinds of ways that you can influence the outcome."
He said he's settled into a good relationship with legislative leaders in this, the last year of his first term. Overall, the governor said, the session was "a good collaborative effort. I'm not trying to blow smoke."
This isn't just an election year for Huntsman. All of the members of the House and half of the Senate are also up for re-election. The governor, who so far has no competition in his race for a second term, said his own race had "zero" impact on him this session.But, he added, again with a smile, "I can't speak for the legislative branch."
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