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In his last speech as governor, Gary Herbert calls for unity, invokes Utah pioneer spirit

State’s chief executive for more than a decade sees light at the end of a long, dark COVID tunnel.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) In this Dec. 21, 2020, file photo, Gov. Gary Herbert gets ready to leave the governor’s mansion as his term approaches an end. On Monday he gave his final speech as governor, calling for unity and a sense of cooperation forged in Utah's pioneer past.

In his final address as Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert urged the state’s residents to reject political divisiveness and to unite to battle the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 1,200 people in the Beehive State.

Even as Utah struggles through “one of the biggest trials” in its history, Herbert said, he sees “light at the end of the tunnel” now that vaccine distribution has begun.

“But we are still in a very long and dark tunnel,” Herbert noted in a prerecorded speech filmed at the governor’s mansion this month. “If there was ever a time when we need collaboration and cooperation, it is now. If there was ever a time that compels each one of us to step up and to do our part, it is now. We must stand together with mutual respect and civility for the benefit of all.”

There is too much at stake, he added, “to abandon the spirit of working together and community well-being that was forged like iron in a fire by our Utah pioneers 174 years ago.”

Herbert, who opted not to run for reelection after nearly 11.5 years in office, has made similar appeals of Utahns throughout the pandemic as the state’s response has relied more on individual responsibility than on sweeping regulations.

As a new leader prepares to take the helm of state leadership, Herbert said he has “great hope” for Utah’s future and for his successor, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

“Spencer is deeply rooted in Utah values,” Herbert said. “He has a great mind and a good heart. He has a strong work ethic from growing up on a farm. And like me, he believes in the people of Utah. I encourage you to stand with him, and he will lead Utah to new heights never before imagined.”

Reflecting on his decade-plus in office in the 10-minute speech, Herbert praised the state’s economic growth, low unemployment rates and thriving business community — a vastly different picture from when he took office in 2009, in the heart of the Great Recession.

But the next governor will face challenges that come, at least in part, from Herbert’s successes, as he noted that the “unprecedented growth” the state has seen poses its own challenges.

“The solutions will come,” he added, “as we work together in a spirit of common decency and mutual respect.”

Along with outlining what he sees as the successes of his decade in office, the governor also took an opportunity to thank those whom he’s worked with along the way — from Cabinet members and department heads to senior staff and the legislative branch and from his security detail to his wife, Jeanette.

Through it all, he said, it is “the everyday, ordinary people of Utah that have inspired me the most.”

Herbert noted that he’s enjoyed visiting schools, reading letters from children and talking to the state’s centenarians at an annual luncheon, as well as celebrating new business openings and graduations.

He said even the hard memories — such as earthquakes, fires and windstorms — have reaffirmed his belief in the goodness of his fellow Utahns, who “are willing to roll up their sleeves and give their time to bring some peace, comfort and support to those in need.”

Through the good and the bad, the governor said, his time in office “has been the greatest honor and privilege of my professional life.”

“It has been an improbable journey for me and I have not taken a single moment of this experience for granted,” he added. “I truly thank you for the trust that you’ve placed in me through my years of service.”

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