July 2, 2012

Cover Story

Built to Lead

Perhaps no Utah governor in modern memory comes to the office with a broad...Read More

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Built to Lead

How Utah and Its First Family Are Positioned to Expand Utah’s Nation-Leading Dynamism

Kimball Thomson

July 2, 2012

“I thought my political career was over after that race,” he recalls. Then in 1990 one of the Utah County Commissioners resigned to run for Congress. “I threw my hat in the ring with about 12 other people in a special election, and was fortunate to be selected.” This was the beginning of more than 14 productive years of service as a Utah County Commissioner for Governor Herbert.

His multifaceted experience during this time included service as president of both the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah Association of Realtors, on the board of his hometown Provo-Orem Chamber of Commerce and of the Utah Water Conservancy District. All told, Governor Herbert has served on 28 separate boards, commissions and other organizations.  During his tenure as commissioner, Utah County was recognized as the state’s best-managed county by the Utah Taxpayer Association. 

The Governor commends local and regional governing as among the most rewarding of all forms of public service.

“I love the idea that community servants on the local level can powerfully impact how a community develops and serves its people—from commerce to education and recreation,” he says. “Some of my favorite memories involve supporting local ballparks and business parks.”   

Governor Herbert’s hands-on local and regional government experience provided him with a unique vantage point that prepares him to work collaboratively with local and regional public servants.

“I believe that local government, more than any other level, is where the rubber meets the road,” he says. “The hard-working, heavy-lifting elected officials such as county commissioners, mayors and folks in city councils can more often than not have an even more direct impact than government leaders on the statewide or national levels. Yet it is quite rare to find people who followed the path that I did, of moving directly from the city and local level to the governor’s office.”

Governor Herbert adds that he hopes this dynamic will change going forward. He believes it is essential for statewide government leaders to recognize local government as the most direct form of democracy, and to empower them rather than handcuffing them with top-down mandates. “Too often local government is treated like the poor stepchild to state government, which creates subdivisions and micromanages them from on high,” he says. “We are working diligently to change this pattern.”

Governor Herbert also points to Utah County’s mix of rural and urban concerns as a true microcosm of Utah’s population that effectively prepared him to lead Utah’s diverse populace. He sees Utah County’s blend of urban areas (i.e. Provo-Orem, American Fork) and bucolic rural communities (Salem, Elk Grove, etc.) as akin to Utah’s demographic and cultural mix–from the densely-populated narrow ribbon of real estate known as the “Wasatch Front” to the state’s multifaceted rural communities.

Just as he worked diligently on the regional level to meet the needs of the people in Utah’s County’s small towns population, his commitment carries into his statewide service: “Our administration is committed to building on Utah’s great legacy of developing innovative, award-winning economic development initiatives that bring quality jobs and careers to our state’s spectacular rural towns, so they don’t have to give up the charm and quality of life they love in order to find sustainable economic opportunities.”

Cultivating a Broader Role
One project dear to Governor Herbert illustrates the continuity in his public service career as he moved from regional to statewide office. As county commissioner, he played a hands-on role in the transition of the former Utah Trade Technical Institute into Utah Valley State College, which conferred Associate degrees and prepared students for transfer into universities. Then, as Utah’s Lieutenant Governor, he was a key champion in helping the institution attain full university status as Utah Valley University (UVU). UVU is now Utah’s largest public university, with 2011 enrollment of 33,395 students in 66 associate degrees, 58 bachelor degrees, 21 certificate/diploma programs and three masters programs.

“It has been one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever had, helping the school where I once took courses develop into a dynamic institution with innovative professional programs and rigorous research opportunities,” says Governor Herbert.

The experience also symbolizes Gary Herbert’s steadily broadening influence. In 2004, he joined then-candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. on the Republican gubernatorial ticket. The Huntsman-Herbert won the general election with 58 percent of the statewide vote, carrying 25 out of 29 counties.

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