On Tuesday night, President Obama kicked off his re-election campaign with one of the most baldly political State of the Union speeches in memory. On Wednesday night, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert emulated the president with his State of the State address.
Herbert is fending off election-year challenges from his political right in the Republican Party, and his speech obviously was intended to shore up his credentials as a movement conservative. It offered the red meat that states' rights ideologues love, seasoned with attacks on "an overreaching, out-of-control, and out-of-touch federal government."
At one point the governor intoned: "As a sovereign state, we not only have an obligation to find Utah solutions to Utah problems, we have a right to do so. We will not capitulate to a federal government that refuses to be constrained by its proper and constitutionally limited role. Whether fighting the federal government on ownership and control of our RS2477 roads, restoring our mule deer population, defending multiple use of our public lands, ending the budget-busting drain of Medicaid, or challenging the constitutionality of mandatory nationalized healthcare in the Supreme Court, be assured that this Governor is firmly resolved to fortify our state as a bulwark against federal overreach."
Herbert sounded like he was ready to order the National Guard to fire on Fort Sumter.
These rhetorical flourishes were intended to woo ultraconservative delegates who will attend the Republican state convention this spring. We don't know whether they will work. What we do know is that they are a measure of how far right the politics in this one-party state have swung since the election of Barack Obama. We remember when Gov. Herbert took office a few years ago and was considered a solid fiscal conservative, but not a fire-breather. That's obviously not how he wishes to be perceived now.
Elsewhere, Herbert focused on Utah's nation-leading economic recovery. In fact, he structured the speech around the six criteria that Forbes magazine uses to rate business-friendly states. In that context, he repeated his vow of no new taxes, and is asking for a reduction in unemployment insurance tax rates. He would plow $111 million in new state revenue into public education, although that will not make a dent in Utah's lowest-in-nation per-pupil school funding. He wants more Utahns to get college degrees, but will add only $23 million to the higher education budget. He promises a voluntary plan to improve air quality.
But woe to the federal official who sticks his nose into Utah's business.