After a half-hour meeting at Browning Arms headquarters in Mountain Green followed by another half-hour tour of the facility Monday morning, Gov. Gary Herbert met with The Morgan County News for a brief interview while on the campaign trail.
The governor spoke of Morgan’s controversial change of government in the 1990s, rural communities’ need to diversify economic opportunities, governing from the bottom up, expanding economic success to rural areas of the state and improving the state’s educational system.
Primary election ballots for registered Republicans were mailed this week so voters can decide between incumbent Herbert and his challenger, Jonathan Johnson., by June 28.
Herbert recalled meeting with Morgan County Commissioners in the 1990s when the county’s form of government called for a three-member commission. At that time, Herbert was a Utah County Commissioner watching the county change from a three-member commission to a nonpartisan seven-member council.
“It was a controversial time,” Herbert said. “I don’t know if that was a good thing to do, but it was a change and developers and growth were coming. You have a lot of private land that allows for development you can’t get with public land.”
Despite the controversy of the time, Herbert said he was struck with the beauty of Morgan County decades ago.
Herbert said he is dedicated to helping the rural counties in the state, but the solution is not one-size-fits-all. He said most rural counties need to diversify their economics and steer away from being oriented only toward one industry such as agriculture-only or tourism-only.
“The quality of life is built on having economic opportunity. Each county has its own unique circumstances. Diversification is something we need to work on,” Herbert said. “How we ought to govern is a bottom-up approach, not a top-down approach. I don’t want to micromanage and tell a county, ‘This is what you ought to do and become.’ They need to decide that on a local level. Then the state can help facilitate economic expansion efforts. I want (the state) to be known as a partner to help get things done.”
He said this approach is working well on the Wasatch Front, in Cache and Washington Counties, but work needs to be done in more rural areas.
“After the 10 most populous counties, economic opportunities drop off,” Herbert said. “I won’t rest until all 29 counties and all 245 cities share in the positive economic growth we see that Utah is becoming known for.”
Herbert said Utah overall is the third-most diverse and successful in the country.
“I very much like the road we are on. We are on the right road going the right direction, but we could do more,” he said. “I recognize there are pockets of areas that have need for improvement, and that is mostly rural. It is a constant challenge. The good news is we are having great success. But the bad news is not everybody is involved in that success.”
Herbert said the state as a whole cannot have long-term sustained growth if it doesn’t have good labor, which means a good public educational plan. This is why he helped establish a goal of “66 by 2020,” meaning 66 percent of all adults in the state have some post-high school education.
“The educational demands in the market place are more significant than they have been before. It is becoming more acute every day,” he said. “Adults need to get an education they can sell to the market place.”
While Herbert feels the most marketable education skills come from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), he said his wife likes to add an “A” for art into the acronym to create STEAM.
“My wife says not to forget the arts,” he said. “The creative side can create new things and new opportunities in the market place to make people’s lives better.”
While his goal is to make Utah’s educational system No. 1 in the nation, he said every school district has the power to control things locally.
“Every school district has its own unique challenges that need to be addressed by local elected officials,” he said. “Sometimes we have people politicizing the local educational system for political gain, not to solve the problem.
“Educational standards are controlled by the state school board elected by the people. Curriculum is controlled by the local school board elected by the people, which is how it should be,” he said. “As governor, I have not much to say except my bully pulpit of funding.”
While the people vote on their state school board representatives, per state law the governor selects the candidates who appear on the ballot.
He said he is pleased the legislature seems to be on board with the governor making education the state’s No. 1 financial priority. Over the last five years, the legislature has added $1.8 billion of new money into education, he said.
“That is a good start, but not where we should stop,” Herbert said. “I like the trend. We have great parents, great students and great community involvement. I am confident in that.”
Herbert, 69, has served as Utah’s 17th governor since August of 2009. He was born in American Fork, attended Brigham Young University, and joined the Utah Army National Guard. He was a Realtor and was elected as a Utah County Commissioner in 1990, serving for 14 years. He was lieutenant governor of the state from 2005 until 2009, when Gov. Jon Huntsman resigned.