SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert spoke about a troubling rise in youth suicides in Utah and the #MeToo movement calling out sexual misconduct in his annual State of the State speech Wednesday night.
Herbert, speaking to Utah’s Legislature in his ninth such address in the state House of Representatives, gave a speech that was more emotional than past years and focused less on specific policies he’d like to see lawmakers tackle. Instead, the Republican governor gave legislators broad directives to take on big challenges in a way that will serve the state best a century from now.
He also gave a soft warning to legislators about trying to pass too much legislation this year, noting that more than 1,200 bills are already in the works for Utah’s short, 45-day session. “Let us never forget the old adage that: ‘The government is best that governs least,'” he said.
The governor also spoke generally about a need to prioritize education, overhaul Utah’s tax laws, plan for infrastructure needs in the decades to come and work to reduce pollution that builds up and settles over northern Utah’s valleys in the winter. He did not detail any specific steps he’d like to see legislators take on those efforts.
A look at some of the highlights of Herbert’s speech and the reaction it received:
Herbert spoke of his newly-formed task force to try to uncover why Utah has a rising rate of teen suicides. The governor said too many of Utah’s youth are taking their lives because of discouragement and hopelessness, saying “the fact that any of them actually do this is tragic beyond words.” He said it horrifies him that suicide has become the leading cause of death among Utah’s young people. The new task force is expected compile a list of proposed solutions by Feb. 15.
CULTURE AND RESPECT
Herbert, who has long bristled at behaviors of President Donald Trump such as name-calling and tossing insults over Twitter, used part of his speech to talk about the importance of respect, responsibility and looking out for everyone.
The governor did not mention the president but said what’s more important than any laws passed is Utah’s culture of “rugged individualism,” respect and spirit of collaboration. “It is based on a moral commitment that when we say, ‘We the People’ we mean all the people — the rich, the poor, the weak and the strong.'”
Herbert applauded the efforts of House Speaker Greg Hughes, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and others for tackling problems of crime and overcrowding around Salt Lake City’s downtown homeless shelter. That effort, called Operation Rio Grande, included a focus on beefed-up policing, job training, drug treatment and health insurance for some of the poorest of the poor. Herbert said Utah officials “are not ready to declare victory,” on the effort but believe it has already disrupted drug trafficking and crime in the area and brought hope and opportunities for homeless people.
#METOO AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES
Herbert made a passing but personal mention to the #MeToo movement that brought allegations of sexual harassment and assault to light against powerful men in politics, media and other fields. Herbert did not mention the movement in detail but spoke generally about concerns for his own granddaughter, asking: “Will she find a workplace that protects her from harassment and gives her equal opportunity for her equal potential?” Herbert also asked if the granddaughter, who speaks Mandarin and is serving a mission for the Mormon church in Australia, will return to Utah after living among forces of globalization and find enough economic opportunities back home. It’s the job of lawmakers, Herbert said, to ensure that the answer to both those questions is yes.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he shares the governor’s concern and frustration over teen suicides and appreciated the governor emphasizing the issue and homelessness in the speech, calling them some of the biggest issues facing the state. Weiler also appreciated the governor’s broad brush approach rather than a specific wish list, noting that legislators already have their bills in the works and “the cement is already drying” on where they plan to focus this year.
Democratic lawmakers, however, said at a press conference after the speech that they agreed with “platitudes” the governor laid out about the state, including proclamations about Utah’s roaring economy, but they wanted to see bold, aggressive action on issues such as education and poverty.
“I sense a degree of complacency or self-satisfaction at times,” Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. “It’s because we’re doing well that we need to step up in a more vigorous, in a more aggressive way, and in many ways, in a more self-sacrificing way to ensure the people who have been left behind aren’t left behind anymore.”