ST. GEORGE – Smiles and handshakes were plentiful last night at the Dixie State College Gardener Center as locals had a unique opportunity to meet and speak personally with nearly a dozen Republican candidates.
Sponsored by Governor Gary Herbert, the event was billed as “Meet the Candidate Night,” and was the latest in a series of similar events Herbert has been holding across the state. The purpose of the event is to help familiarize the public with Republican candidates for local, state, and congressional offices before upcoming party caucuses on March 15.
The governor spoke to the audience about Utah’s economy, as well as several important regional issues such as public land access and management, water rights, and the controversial Lake Powell Pipeline. After the speech, a town hall style discussion took place as locals had a chance to ask Herbert questions directly.
Herbert, who is himself facing a primary battle for nomination, spoke with St. George News briefly before taking to the stage; he explained why he believes that he is the best gubernatorial candidate for Southern Utah.
“I understand Southern Utah,” he said, “I also understand the public land issues, which are unique to Southern Utah, because I’ve been involved with rural Utah since my county commissioner days working on public lands, natural resource development, energy resource development, tourism, and travel.”
The governor went on to talk about Utah’s recent economic successes. “We’ve won the ‘National Championship’ twice: twice we’ve been the best named, the best state in America for business. Why would you want to change the coach?”
In his talk, Herbert compared the economy to a garden.
“You’ve got to have fertile soil,” he repeated throughout the night. He outlined an economic policy for Utah that focuses on cutting taxes, decreasing governmental regulations, and improving the educational system.
“We’ve got to raise the bar when it comes to math, reading, science, technology, and engineering if we’re going to compete in the global market place,” he said.
Herbert also spoke about his own heritage and family ties to the state.
“I am a sixth generation Utahn,” he told the crowd. “My ancestors came across the plains with Brigham Young.”
Afterwards, the governor took questions from the audience.
When asked about his views on the Lake Powell Pipeline, he expressed his support for the project: “We have water that we own and have rights too in the Colorado River, and we need to use them,” he said.
On the question of the controversial Green River Nuclear Plant, he was a bit harder to pin down, he said “On a macro scale, I support nuclear power, I don’t believe you can provide energy to meet the demands without having carbon-based fuels and/or nuclear power as the form.”
However, he was less certain about whether nuclear power could be safely generated in Utah: “The truth of the matter is, Utah doesn’t really have a lot to say about it, nuclear power plants are regulated by the federal government.”
Herbert seemed less willing to allow the federal government to determine the fate of Utah’s public lands. He reaffirmed his support of recent legislative efforts to transfer all federally owned public land to the state. When asked about the issue, the governor was defiant.
“We are going to stand up,” he said. “We’re going to tell them: you know, you’ve been taking advantage of us for too long and we’re going to start pushing back.”
When asked to respond to the recent statement by Bureau of Land Management’s Director Bob Abbey, specifically that Utah’s legislative efforts to reclaim federal lands have “absolutely no chance of ever happening in the real world,” Herbert struck a further defiant tone, yet seemed to concede that success was unlikely.
“I understand that the legal challenge is not a slam dunk,” Herbert said. “There are some constitutional issues that we have to work through.”
He went on to indicate that recent moves by Utah legislators might be part of a larger strategy to help leverage Utah in negotiations with BLM officials.
“Sometimes you have to get the donkey’s attention, so you slap it upside the head with a two-by-four, and say, ‘hey, I’m serious about this. Pay attention,’” he said.
Herbert will be hosting one more “Meet The Candidate Night” in the state – March 10 at 2 p.m. at the Renaissance Academy in Lehi.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.