In the course of my career I’ve met many politicians. I have seen the worst of them and I’ve seen who I consider to be the best of them. Personally identifying with a politician – seeing them as friends or enemies – is precarious at best because political character is often so temperamental and unpredictable. We can support a candidate today only to find out tomorrow that he’s a fraud. Likewise, we can dislike a politician for years only to wake one day to the reality that the person we disliked so much turns out to be a man of true character – even in our disagreements.
Utah’s elected officials are better than most in my experience. Even as I often wonder what they’re thinking in promoting laws and policies that I feel diminish freedom, rarely have I run across a Utah politician who is not only wrongheaded but corrupt.
I attended the inauguration of Governor Gary Herbert and was delighted to see our democratic processes working so well. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a cheerleader – it’s just not a part of my personality. Just ask my kids – my sons can have a great basketball game and, predictably, at some point that evening of the game, instead of basking in their success, I’ll remind them how they can make improvements. It’s not an endearing quality of mine but it is what it is. I’m not a cheerleader.
And because I’m not a cheerleader, I hope you’ll take special note of my thoughts about Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert. Gary is Utah’s biggest cheerleader and proudly so. In his inaugural remarks he said,
As I travel around the state and have the opportunity to meet with you and others to discuss the challenges you face each and every day – I want you to know that it strikes me in a deeply profound and personal way. Although our circumstances have changed over the past 150 years, the strength, the character, and the very fiber of Utahns have largely remained the same. The resilience, the determination, that same pioneer spirit, that same strong will in the face of adversity, that same “can-do” attitude, is just as evident in 2013 as it was in 1847.
I believe him. This guy cares about Utah. I have many opportunities to greet him and wish him well in his role as governor but over the last year or so I’ve had more intimate moments with him to discuss serious matters of public policy. We’ve met over immigration (where we agreed), over sex education (where we disagreed) and over Common Core (where we both agreed and disagreed).
Gary Herbert is a gut conservative. He feels and sees things more than thinks them, but when he does think through some very complex issues I’ve found him to be deliberative and prudent. Yes, politics drives his decisions in many predictable ways, as it does all politicians, but politics doesn’t drive his character. I get this sense about him that he’s disappointed when politics ultimately trumps principle – even when he knows it must. Again, in his inaugural address, he stated,
[P]rinciples are not relative … for a family or for the government, principles always hold true. And true principles are the surest foothold for good governance.
Again, I believe him. I believe he wakes up every morning wanting to act principally in behalf of this great state. And I believe his intent is pure even as I scratch my head sometimes wondering how certain decisions could be made.
We often blame the people around a good man for disappointing decisions. But I think it’s to his credit that the governor’s core staff makes a conscious effort to protect him, not politically (though that’s a part of their job), but protect his character. Us old-timers were fond of saying, “Let Reagan be Reagan” and everything would be fine. I can say that about Utah’s governor: Let Gary be Gary and everything will be fine.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.