The results of Tuesday's elections mean many things for Utah. One of them is that Republican Gov. Gary Herbert was overwhelming voted back into office, this time for a full four-year term. And he will be working with a Legislature that is even slightly more Republican than it was before.
Another one is that Democrat Barack Obama won re-election as president of the United States. Not by a Herbert-sized majority, but he won. And, while the U.S. House of Representatives remains in Republican hands, the Senate is not only still a Democratic-majority body, but has arguably moved further to the left than it was before.
That means that as Herbert and the Republican Legislature move to govern Utah, they must face the reality that will come with the power structure in Washington.
The most immediate result is that the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare is here to stay. The states, Utah included, now have roughly a week to finalize their answer to the question of whether they will provide the kind of health insurance exchange apparatus required by the ACA, cooperate with the federal government on the creation of such a system, or just cede the field.
The governor's expressed hope that the issue would become moot with a Mitt Romney victory has been dashed. He still has a chance to put a Utah spin on his answer, but he must move quickly and decisively, or the opportunity will be lost.
The continuation of the status quo in Washington also means that there is no point in the state bashing its collective head against the wall, expecting the feds to drop their demands for cleaner air or to become appreciably more free with drilling permits for federal land.
Herbert is no fan of dirty air, of course. But his current preference for voluntary actions to improve the air quality in the Salt Lake and Cache valleys are not going to be enough to satisfy an EPA that isn't going to back down for at least the next four years. And the governor would prove himself a wise leader if he would drop, and convince his fellow Republicans to abandon, the push for the state to take over some 30 million acres of federal land in Utah. That is not the kind of expensive, no-win battle a prudent manager would want to pursue.
Gary Herbert does not have to face the right-wing-dominated Republican caucus and convention system for another four years if ever. He should use that time promoting ways to wisely govern Utah and manage its resources, matching President No-Drama Obama, step by responsible step.
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