We can only imagine what thoughts are going through Gary Herbert's head today as he prepares to take the oath as Utah's governor, but we hope that he has certain themes in mind.
We hope that he will strive to steer a middle course on most issues, avoiding the extremes of either the rabid right or the loopy left. In this state, politics tends to pull to the right, so that will be the greater hazard. But we believe that history proves that true moderates often serve the people best.
Herbert's greatest immediate challenge might be the strain that the economic recession is continuing to place on the state's budget. We don't know what the revenue numbers will be when he prepares a draft budget in the coming months, but the preliminary reports suggest they will not be pretty. That will likely mean another painful round of spending cuts, this time without a rescue from a Washington stimulus package.
Herbert and the Legislature will have to decide how much further cutting public services, including schools, can take without doing irreparable damage. We do not like the idea of a tax hike while the economy is still struggling, but if education or other critical services are in dire jeopardy, we think a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes have to be on the table. We recall that a conservative Republican statesman, Gov. Norm Bangerter, risked his political future and his hide to raise taxes to save the schools in the 1980s, but it was the right thing to do.
Gary Herbert could find himself in a similar predicament. It will be particularly tough because he will face an election later in 2010 to keep his job, and he won't want to hand Republican opponents a stick to beat him with.
We also hope that Herbert will bear in mind that he is governor of all Utahns, not just those in his own party. That means standing up for minorities.
Gary Herbert is said to be a thoughtful, careful man who likes to listen to all sides and drill down into policy issues. If he keeps to that script, he can't go far wrong. To date he has shown excellent judgment in selecting moderate Republican Greg Bell as lieutenant governor and keeping talented staffers from Gov. Jon Huntsman's administration on aboard.
He has pledged continuity with Huntsman's tax and economic development policies, both good signs. While he is more skeptical than Huntsman on climate change and gay rights, at least he's still listening.
We think that most people respect that kind of fair-mindedness in a leader, even when they disagree with him. We join other Utahns in wishing our new governor well.