Consider Gov. Gary Herbert’s choice to veto HB76 - the “Constitutional carry” bill. He faced pressure from both sides - letters, social media, phone calls.
“I’m pretty much a methodical guy,” says Herbert. “I think too often we react, maybe a little hastily. We shouldn’t use the term knee-jerk, but sometimes it is a bit hasty. I have always believed that if I have the same set of facts you do, and vice-versa, 90% of the time we are going to come to the same conclusion.”
Herbert points to the fact that he won re-election with nearly 70% of the vote that his positions reflect the consensus in Utah.
“What I do and say and implement ought to be representative of the people. That doesn’t mean it has to be unanimous - that’s impossible - but it ought to be consensus. I believe my political views are the consensus view of Utah and that’s why I got elected.”
Herbert may be right. A recent study suggests that lawmakers tend to overestimate the conservative leanings of their constituents. While the “Constitutional carry” bill was popular on the hill amongst conservative lawmakers and activists, Herbert seems to be betting on Utahns being more moderate than that.
So, how did Herbert get to the decision to veto HB76? He says there wasn’t an “epiphany moment” for him.
“It’s kinda like if you ever spin a coin. It starts wobbling and eventually it...just settles. When I had to make the decision, the coin just settled. This is the right decision. I’m comfortable. I’m calm as the morning dew.”
Herbert has made a number of big decisions during his time in the Governor’s mansion. Vetoing the “abstinence only” sex education bill last year and recently nixing an agreement with Nevada to share water from Snake Valley.
Herbert is in an enviable position for most lawmakers. He won’t stand for re-election until 2016. Given his 2012 victory margin, that’s a lot of political capital he has to spend if he chooses.
He might have to. The chorus of voices pushing for a tax hike to pay for education and transportation is growing. Herbert acknowledges those are pressing issues, but he doesn’t see the need to take bold action that really isn’t necessary.
“I think it’s a mistake when people get elected and say ‘I need to make some Earth-shaking change of direction.’ I think President Obama made a mistake when he got elected and decided to cram down healthcare reform. What he’s done is divide the nation and took his focus off the economy. We’ve suffered the consequences of that because he wanted to do something bold.”
That’s not to say Herbert is happy with the status quo. He says Utah has a “pretty good thing going,” and keeping that level of success is going to take a lot of political muscle.
But, Herbert may have tipped his hand a bit when it comes to education. During our conversation he brought up the dreaded “v-word”: vouchers. The Governor says he doesn’t want to take any possibilities off the table when it comes to Utah’s education. While many may recoil at the mere suggestion of private school vouchers, Herbert says it should be one of many ideas we should consider.
But, Herbert says something striking about vouchers. In a debate filled with invective and venom on both sides, he says, while he supports vouchers, he doesn’t see public education as the enemy.
“There’s room for everyone to play in the sandbox. Vouchers aren’t on the table currently, but if we try it again, it should be done on a limited scale like we did with the Carson Smith scholarship, which has worked.”
And, that’s not the only modification Herbert sees if vouchers makes a comeback.
“It probably needs to be means tested so we can take away argument that rich people get benefits. Look, if we can get everyone on the same table and get them to check their biases at the door, we can start to focus on how to help every student. We’re all on the same team.”
That team loyalty could be stressed by bringing vouchers into the mix. You’ll remember that voters overwhelmingly rejected vouchers in 2007.
If Herbert decides to get behind another attempt to institute private school vouchers, it’s going to cost a lot of political capital. Thankfully for him he’s got plenty to spare.
[Editor's Note: You can listen to a podcast of Bryan Schott's conversation with Gov. Gary Herbert here.]