SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's "unique spirit of collaboration" in government, business and society will carry the state into a prosperous and civil future as it takes on difficult challenges ahead, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday.
"When I became governor, I said that Utah would unlock unlimited possibilities through unprecedented partnerships," he said during the annual State of the State address at the Capitol.
Speaking to a joint session of the Utah Legislature, Herbert touted successes in public education, the economy, reducing homelessness and crime in downtown Salt Lake City, helping hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and a newly formed suicide prevention coalition. He said that kind of cooperation sets the state apart.
Instead of skirting big issues, and pointing fingers and refusing to talk, Utah faces them with personal and shared responsibility.
"And we find answers," he said. "And we make our world and our communities better."
Herbert gave his speech after going to the hospital Tuesday with abdominal pain and being diagnosed with two kidney stones. He is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday afternoon to remove the stones, said Paul Edwards, governor's office spokesman.
"Although he has been experiencing pain, he remains in good spirits and has maintained a full schedule," Edwards said.
Following his speech, the governor met with Utah Supreme Court justices as well as family and friends before going to get food at his favorite Mexican restaurant, he said.
Any signs of pain were not evident during Herbert's speech.
The governor skipped over many of his usual talking points — economic growth, education funding, taxes, transportation — during his annual January update before lawmakers.
Rather, the governor talked about what he said is the good that comes from doing hard things. He focused on preparing for the future, perpetuating the state's "unique" culture of self-reliance and personal responsibility, and how "together we can build a better, a kinder and a more civil world."
Herbert singled out House Speaker Greg Hughes, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and longtime community advocate Pamela Atkinson for their "shoulder-to-shoulder, no credit, no blame" mantra with Operation Rio Grande.
While the state isn't ready to declare victory, the project has broken up drug trafficking, reduced crime, cleaned streets and parks, increased treatment services and provided job opportunities, without disrupting the important social services for homeless people, he said.
Hughes, R-Draper, said afterward that he embraces Herbert's theme of having the political will to do difficult things.
"I think it sets a tone that I concur with," he said. "We want to cooperate together, understanding that we're separate but equal branches, but we want to do it respectfully with each other."
Lawmakers and the governor have an ongoing disagreement over how to conduct a midterm congressional election when a vacancy occurs. Legislators have proposed several bills to assert what their power in those situations.
Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser, R-Sandy, said that dispute will continue, but Herbert's speech "sets a good tone" for the legislative session. He also said he was surprised the governor didn't say much about policy.
In his speech, Herbert said just as the state could not ignore the human tragedy in the Rio Grande area, it must never ignore the human tragedy of suicide.
"The fact that suicide has become the leading cause of death among our young people horrifies me," the governor said.
Herbert charged the new suicide prevention coalition to come up with a plan by Feb. 15.
"This session, we will find solutions," he promised.
The governor called on legislators to make decisions that matter.
Legislative Democrats didn't have much criticism for Herbert's speech.
"Our vision might be a little different than his, but we all need to do as he suggested," said Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Democrats have a "great" working relationship with the governor, but he senses a degree of complacency and self-satisfaction among Republicans.
"We are doing well in Utah, but it’s because we are doing well in Utah that we have to step up in a more vigorous way and in many ways a more self-sacrificing way to ensure that the people who are left behind aren’t left behind anymore," he said.
King said Utah needs to do more for immigrants who don't have the job skills they need, children in overcrowded classrooms and people with disabilities trying to find work.
Herbert said proposed legislation on tax reform, education and rural Utah would lay a foundation for the success and well-being of the state's children, not only now but in the future.
The governor turned personal at times during the 24-minute speech, talking about his six children and 16 grandchildren. Herbert said he has become increasingly concerned about the kind of world that the current generation is creating. He said he wonders about the future of his granddaughter, McKelle, when she returns from who an LDS Church mission in Australia this year.
Herbert wondered if she would find a workplace that protects her from her from harassment and provides an equal opportunity for equal potential. He wondered if society would reflect the ideal of human dignity and guarantee fundamental rights.
"This is why we are here: to ensure that the answer to that question is a resounding and emphatic 'yes,'" he said.
Herbert said he "strongly believes" that work, self-reliance, shared responsibility and mutual respect are the keys to prosperity and well-being.
"This unique culture is not just about rugged individualism," he said.
The governor cited examples of businesses and schools working together.
BrainStorm Inc. employees decided to adopt Mont Harmon Middle School in Carbon County and provide guidance and inspiration in coding, video editing and virtual reality, he said.
First-graders at Meadowlark Elementary in Rose Park benefit from extra classroom support in the form of volunteers from Intrepid, a communications and PR firm, Herbert said.
The governor praised Jarem Hallows, who was in a hospital bed receiving treatment for stage 4 cancer when he heard about the hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico and destroyed the power grids. Hallows, he said, jumped in to help.
Hallows, along with Jorge Alvarado, Cox, State Auditor John Dougall, cabinet member Tani Downing, and Herbert's son Brad and daughter-in-law Carmen, and others, organized “Light up Puerto Rico” to deliver light and hope to people who had been iving in the dark, the governor said.
"Once again Utahns stepped up, when there was no playbook, to help their fellow man," Herbert said.7 comments on this story
The governor also paid tribute to Matt Hillyard, the son of Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who was a fixture at the Legislature for years. Matt Hillyard, who had Down syndrome, died earlier this month at age 42.
Herbert said Matt Hillyard had no guile, hugged everyone and didn't see any losers, just winners.
"Matt taught me to sing loud, even when you’re off key," Herbert said. "He taught me to eat every pancake like it’s the first pancake you’ve ever tried and the last pancake you’ll ever eat."
Contributing: Preston Cathcart