Do you know what’s exceptional?
Gov. Gary Herbert does, and it’s Utah. Or more precisely, Utah’s economy, its generosity and its elected leaders’ spirit of collaboration.
The state, in short, is unmatched, he declared Wednesday night during his State of the State address.
Midway through the opening week of the 2018 Legislative Session, the governor delivered a speech that, as is tradition, was occasionally interrupted by obligatory applause and chuckles from the lawmakers and supporters who filled the House of Representatives chamber.
“Each year, I have been pleased to report to you that our state is healthy, it’s growing and it’s very successful,” Herbert said. “This year, my overall report is more optimistic than ever. I am pleased to report to you today that by every meaningful metric, the state of the State of Utah is truly, truly exceptional.”
Herbert called on lawmakers to prioritize education and reform the state’s tax code, echoing a message he broadcast earlier this year when he outlined his proposed budget.
The gains weren’t won without hard work, Herbert noted. Clamping down on drug cartels in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood and connecting homeless folks with necessary services has been a hard-fought collaborative mission—one that he admitted isn’t over yet.
This year, Herbert assembled a task force to combat teen suicide that has become the No 1 cause of death for Utah youths.
“Just as we could not ignore the human tragedy in the Rio Grande area, we must not ignore this human tragedy of suicide,” Herbert said.
In a touching remembrance, Herbert evoked Matt Hillyard, the 42-year-old Down syndrome son of Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who up until his death on Jan. 4 had been a beaming and positive Capitol fixture.
“Matt was a remarkable individual—a man without guile,” he said. “Matt greeted everyone with a hug. Matt loved everyone unconditionally. In Matt’s eyes, there were only winners—no losers.”
Herbert wrapped his address by asking that elected leaders focus on measures that in 100 years will reflect the sound judgment of those in power today.
“If we do our job right today, Utah in the future will still be the greatest place to live, to love, to work and to serve,” he said. “Where people can become the best they can be in a free society.”
Democrats delivered a response to the governor immediately after the State of the State.
Rep. Brian King argued that beyond speaking about family values, his party was promoting policies to improve lives, such as wage increases, paid family leave and fighting sexual harassment.
“We do value people first and foremost—above jobs, even, above business interests, above the interests of a few privileged folks from particular socioeconomic groups, particular ethnic groups,” he said. “We’re looking out for individuals at the individual level in the state of Utah.”
King acknowledged the state’s successes, but pointed out its woeful per-capita spending on education and abysmal air quality.