Gov. Gary Herbert was faced with a choice between a workable status quo and a radical departure from long-established practice and law and, like the good conservative he wants us to think he is, he wisely chose not to fix something that wasn't broken.
Late Friday, only hours after the bill officially landed on his desk, Herbert vetoed HB363. That's the recent act of the Utah Legislature that would have eviscerated the state's moderate, abstinence-first sex education curriculum and replaced it with a particularly prudish abstinence-only plan that nobody, other than a few members of the Legislature and some radical-right pressure groups, thought necessary.
First, politics. Herbert is facing re-election and some of the more reactionary elements in his own Republican Party are not only those that backed HB363, but also have generally been those that work the hardest to dominate the state's precinct caucuses and state convention. Offend that core of true believers and, like U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett two years ago, Herbert could find himself deprived of his own party's line on the November ballot.
But, between the passage of HB363 early this month and Herbert's Friday veto, some important things happened. First, the public outcry against the bill was loud and vigorous. There were rallies, online petitions and, according to the governor's own office, a great deal of constituent feedback. Herbert's office said that HB363 generated more calls, letters and emails even than last year's two big issues the open records bill and legislation dealing with immigration.
Meanwhile, back at the Republican Party, a record turnout filled public buildings and living rooms at Thursday's precinct caucuses. While there has been no official tally of delegate commitments, such large numbers suggest that the party's base will be pulled to the center, a center that represents the estimated 90 percent of Utah public school parents who now opt in to the existing sex-ed approach.
But let us also give Herbert some credit and consider that he did the right thing for the right reason. His official veto message correctly noted that Utah's long-standing sex-ed curriculum is anything but radical. Most parents like it the way it is, but have the option of keeping their children out of those classes and handling the task themselves if they wish.
HB363 would not have empowered parents. It would have deprived them of the chance to send their children to a well-accepted approach that stresses abstinence but does not pretend that it is the only option.
That was Herbert's official logic in vetoing HB363. And it was exactly correct.