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During his monthly news conference, Gov. Herbert sounds off on the inland port, conversion therapy and Trump’s impeachment ‘circus.’

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PETER HOLSLIN
  • Peter Holslin

“It reminds me of when I was playing baseball, years ago in my youth.”


That’s how Gov. Gary Herbert responded to a question Thursday about President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry. Herbert was speaking at his monthly news conference at KUED Channel 7 studios, where he used the folksy analogy to sum up his thoughts on the Ukraine- and Syria-related scandals unfolding under the Trump administration, and the ensuing response from Congressional Democrats.


“When even our own team would make errors, we used to yell from the dugout, ‘Put a tent on that circus!’ I think that’s what we need to say about Washington.”


The governor neither called Trump out directly, nor voiced his support—as former and current Utah officials in rural counties have recently done. But Herbert expressed openness to the idea of impeachment proceedings, if just to provide some answers.


“Let that roll out. I don’t know what the answers are to the questions. I know there’s questions being raised, but there’s a process outlined to do this. Let’s hope they do it with decorum, professionalism,” he said. “It really is like a circus.”


With the municipal election less than two weeks away, Herbert began the televised gathering with the local media by delivering an opening statement urging citizens to educate themselves and exercise their right to vote. He also weighed in on recent findings from the ACLU of Utah raising questions about potential electioneering malfeasance in the voting process for a special election taking place in San Juan County.


“It’s unfortunate. I think we need to make sure we conduct ourselves according to the law. We ought to conduct ourselves with good demeanor and professionalism,” he said. “I think we need to get people together and say, ‘We’re all on the same team. We’re all Americans. We’re all Utahns.’”


The governor also addressed a question about increasing the sales tax on food as lawmakers consider tax reform. (A plan unveiled last week by Republicans would boost the sales tax on groceries from 1.75% to 4.85% —nearly a three-fold increase.) Advocates for the homeless and working poor spoke out stridently earlier this week against the proposed tax hike, saying raising the prices on such basic staples as food unfairly burdens people in need and “causes hunger.”


Herbert seemed unopposed to the increase, suggesting that any financial costs it adds could be offset by other tax incentives: “With vouchers, with tax credits, with different options we have in the tax code, that can actually be arranged ... so that those who are vulnerable don’t have to pay it.”


What about the minimum wage? It’s only $7.25 per hour and hasn’t been raised since 2009. Republican lawmakers tossed out a bill to hike it to $12 an hour by 2022 during the 2018 session. Thursday, responding to a question about whether he would consider revisiting the issue, Herbert suggested that he was OK with the idea of letting the invisible hand of capitalism work it out on its own.


“You know, I’m a free-market guy,” he said, arguing that education would be “key” in helping people get better salaries. “When I go around and talk to our young people in elementary school and public education, I say, ‘If you want to get a job, get a good education.’ That’s a truism. That is, in fact, truth … The minimum wage is almost, to me, irrelevant. There’s probably hardly any business out there that starting salaries aren’t higher than minimum wage, because that’s what the market is demanding.”


Herbert was a bit soft on the topic of a conversion therapy ban now under consideration by the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints insists that it supports a ban of this widely discredited and demonstrably harmful practice, but it opposes the proposed regulation unless it provides legal protection for therapists who want to offer religious-based guidance to LGBTQ clients and youth. Herbert didn’t offer much insight, other than saying he’s opposed to conversion therapy and open to input from faith-based groups—as well as anyone else.


“Their comments are just as important as any other comments, but no more important than other comments. That’s just part of the mix out there, people weighing in and letting their voice be heard,” he said.


Last but not least: The Utah Inland Port Authority board met for the first time in four months last week, after their previous meeting in June was disrupted by protesters. Just as last time, activists, environmentalists and concerned citizens showed up en masse at the Capitol and registered their dismay—this time blowing whistles at the beginning of the meeting and jeering when the new executive director, Jack Hedge, delivered a statement.


“It would be nice if they added something to the dialogue and the discussion,” Herbert said of the demonstration, citing an op-ed in the Deseret News declaring that “a tooting whistle is not an argument.” He argued that—contrary to critics’ concerns—the board and Hedge’s goal is to make the inland port the “cleanest, most green port in America.”


“We ought to be respectful for differences of opinion,” he said.

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