McEntee: Hey, governor, hollow rhetoric won't heal Utah's ills
As inaugural speeches go, the address Gov. Gary Herbert delivered Monday was a model of gratitude, pride, humility and â¦ that's about it.
Herbert acknowledged Utah has its problems, "loss of jobs, the loss of homes, and the loss of retirement savings." College students wonder if they'll find work when they graduate.
But fear not! We have the " 'can-do' spirit of our great heritage," he said, and the inspiration and hard work shown by Utahns throughout state history.
By and large, though, Herbert's speech was a drab accounting of how great Utah is, punctuated by inspirational passages about his son-in-law's football experience and his family's success in making a meager Christmas joyful.
Let's get this straight: Many Utahns still have trouble finding jobs, paying their mortgages and scraping together enough money for college or vocational schools. Many drive old cars that pollute more than new ones. Too many of the old, the ill and the homeless still suffer.
Our public education system will despite Herbert's plan to boost funding by $298 million this year remain dead last in per-pupil spending. A lot of teachers won't make much money, and they'll still spend some of it on classroom supplies. And, in a system that is increasingly diverse, students of color still have shockingly low graduation rates.
How, Herbert asked, did Utah evolve from a home to "humble cowboys and coal miners" into the home of "renowned human genetic researchers and aerospace scientists?" Well, they got there with first-class education, which means appropriate funding.
Business, charity, self-reliance and hard work are Utah watchwords. You can say that about every state. All were settled by immigrants, who worked endlessly to get along and who care about their friends and family just as much as we do.
Yet, somehow, I can't believe that Utah stands supreme in volunteerism and community services; I've lived in too many other places and seen the same generosity.
The governor also advocates states' rights and resists the "increasing burden of federal intrusion into our lives." This from a man who also said he could not listen to the national anthem in the Capitol Rotunda without a "burning feeling of pride in being an American."
Fact is, more than 27 percent of the state's budget comes in the form of federal funds. Tens of thousands of Utahns work for the federal government. In some counties, it's among the biggest employers, and people are happy to have those jobs.
And don't get me started on the federal land grab that certain Utah lawmakers are drooling over and the governor supports. It's not going to work no matter how many millions the state plans to spend on legal battles.
In the end, everything comes down to the Utah Legislature, which after the past election is even more predominately a conservative Republican bastion that will listen politely to speeches, then do exactly what it wants.
I'm a native Utahn and I love this place, with its alpine reaches and desert wonderlands but certainly not the pollution that covered the Salt Lake Valley on Monday with a wretched pall.
Governor, I don't think triumphalism is appropriate. We're just as gerrymandered as most states and have the same political divisions and social ills.
Maybe in your State of the State address you could ask the political factions to come together and get serious about education, jobs and economic and social issues.
But perhaps the best thing you could do is to walk among the people, hear their stories, and leave with a sense of bipartisan purpose. You would be not just a Republican governor in a red state, but a governor for all of us.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.
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