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Criticizing Gov. Gary Herbert for failing to lead on education and economic development, retired general Peter Cooke announced his candidacy for governor Wednesday.
"The lesson I've learned is that you can't sit back on your laurels," Cooke said. "If we have an education system that ranks as low as it does in almost every aspect … it just doesn't make sense how we can compete in a global economy."
Cooke is a retired two-star general, a businessman and real estate developer. He spent 39 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, retiring two years ago as commander of the 96th Regional Readiness Command, overseeing mobilization and deployment of reserve units across six Western states.
He has also spent 29 years in business and as a real estate developer. He said the combination is unique for a Democrat in Utah, and makes him a solid candidate in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1980.
"Utahns don't necessarily vote on a partisan level. They vote for integrity and character and they vote for those who have demonstrated that they can make a difference," Cooke said. "I think I'm a different candidate. I'm an LDS Democrat. I'm a military person. I'm a small business person. I spent most of my career either defending this country or building small business. I think that's the backbone of Utah."
Cooke ran for office once before, losing a congressional bid in 1978. He was director of economic development under former Gov. Scott Matheson and said he learned there that people come to Utah because it's a great location and quality of life.
But he said that is threatened if the governor doesn't lead on education and the environment. He said instead of vilifying teachers, the governor needs to involve the community. And the governor needs to do more than just ask people to voluntarily pollute less.
"I think this is a crisis of leadership," Cooke said. "Without it, we're killing our environment and at the same time we're not educating our population and we're on a disastrous track."
Herbert, who also has three Republican challengers in the field, said he has been aggressive on education and pushed for more funding and believes the best way to get more money into Utah schools is to grow the economy, not raise taxes.
"I agree that we need to invest in education. I've probably been the leader in investing in education since I became the governor," Herbert said.
He said he has set the goal of two-thirds of Utahns having some post-high school degree by 2020 to ensure the state's economy stays robust.
"We're already doing it. We're doing it in a significantly successful way, in fact," Herbert said.
Cooke also said that having someone with his long record of military experience in office would be useful if Hill Air Force Base is threatened by a round of base closures.
Herbert said that he, too, is committed to Hill's survival.
Age • 62
Education • Bachelor's and master's degrees in political science from Utah State University.
Career • Spent 39 years in the Army Reserves, retiring at the rank of Major General and was commander of the 96th Regional Readiness Command.
• He has been a congressional staffer for U.S. Sen. Frank Moss and economic development director to Gov. Scott Matheson.
• For 29 years, he has been involved in affordable housing development, military projects and other real estate development.
Family • Married with five children. His wife, Heather, is a former assistant U.S. Attorney and member of the Utah Board of Pardons.
Hobbies • Enjoys skiing, cycling and sailing.