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"So, I feel good about our 7-year anniversary here and what we've been able to do with education. But we're going to make that the No. 1 focus over these next 4 years."
-- Governor Herbert
ANNOUNCER: KUED presents The Governor's Monthly News Conference, an exchange between Utah reporters and Gov. Gary Herbert.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Good morning, everyone. Great to be with you.
We've had a little bit of a gap since we've met before, kind of our summer vacation, I think, and it's good to be back with you. So, thank you for being here today. And as I think about summer, and now our students and our parents are thinking now in terms of school, back to school time is upon us, and some of our school districts will open up here in the next week.
So, I've just been reflecting a little bit today because today is my 7-year anniversary of being the governor of the great state of Utah.
Today is my anniversary. And I appreciate the good strides we've made in so many areas, but particularly in education. When I came in to this job, our graduation rates were 74%, not acceptable. We've made significant improvement year by year, 74, 76.
And this past year, we've reached 84%, so we've had a 10% improvement in performance when it comes to graduation rates. Just as significantly as the overall rates is I'm pleased to see that our Hispanic graduation rates, for example, have grown about 17%, our Pacific Islanders about 13%, so we're making strides with our minority groups with their graduation rates. And it gives me hope, it gives me also added incentive that we can do better.
And our goal is to really get to 90%. At 84%, we're above the national average, but we can do better. And I think there's no reason why our goal of becoming the best performing education system in America cannot be realized over the next few years. So, with renewed emphasis and collaboration, I think that can be done.
It's not just graduation rates. We've seen great success when it comes to our ACT test scores in comparison to other states. Our NAEP scores in comparison with other states, we see significant progress.
But what we have to do better, I think, is in fact come together. Some of the fighting that goes on with our education system needs to stop.
I think we need to have a collaboration with our teachers, and show great appreciation for the good work they're doing. Our parents, the students, our principals, superintendents, the school boards, which have one of the more significant elected offices in our state, state school board, local school boards.
And as we put more resources into it — and the good news is, because of our healthy economy, we've been able to do that, over $2 billion now of what we've put into education since I came on the scene. That's $2 billion, that's a B word there, $2 billion. It's a good start, and it's certainly not where we're going to end. We need to continue to have that kind of increase in resource into our education system.
So, I feel good about our 7-year anniversary here and what we've been able to do with education. But we're going to make that the No. 1 focus over these next 4 years.
So, I'll take your questions now, and thank you for being here from summer vacation.
ROD DECKER, KUTV2: Best performing education system in America, you announced that goal last spring. And so far, all I've heard is the phrase "best performing." Do you know yet how you're going to measure performance? Do you know yet what the goals are going to be? Do you have a plan? Or if you don't, can you tell us when you will?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Sure. We are working on a 10-year plan, so it's not just a short-term goal. It's really a longer-term goal, which will have some ability to be flexible, and to adjust as the marketplace requires it, and we reassess and re-evaluate, and see where we're at.
But I just gave you some good information there, Rod. Our graduation rates have increased dramatically. That's pushing us into the top ten areas. With our NAEP scores for 8th grade, we see that we're about 12th when it comes to math, 10th language arts, and 7th in science.
But that's just eighth grade. So, there's no reason why we can't become 90% graduation rates, that would be No. 1 in the nation. There's no reason why, with our NAEP scores, we can't be No. 1 in math, No. 1 in reading and language arts, No. 1 in science. So, all those areas are where we're going to be measuring to see if we can, in fact, become No. 1 in the nation. I think we can do it.
I think we'll find that we're going to be the best return on taxpayers' investment in the nation. We clearly are doing that right now, but we can raise the bar some.
And it's going to be — take a collaborative effort with the legislature, the executive branch, business community leaders, but specifically parents, and teachers, and students, superintendents, school board members all pulling together in ways we've never done before.
MICHAEL ORTON, UTAHPOLITICALCAPITOL.COM: You cite — you cite your concern about fighting within the system, the educational system, some of the public policy initiatives, and the normal kinds of concerns that are expressed there. How do we keep the school board from becoming a partisan fight? How do you ensure that from happening?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, that remains to be seen.
I know that we have legislation in place, it's non-partisan now, with the potential of it becoming partisan in the future. So, I think that discussion probably is not over yet. But the key thing ought to be we ought to focus and unite our focus on educational outcomes.
How do we, in fact, improve our graduation rates? Why is it we're at 84% and not 90%? Do we have enough parental involvement? Is there, in fact, local control and better communication between principals and teachers, and teachers and parents and students?
So, there's areas that we can take a look at and evaluate, in fact adjust. But I think that, you know, the Common Core issue's been something we've been fighting over. We have the legislation that we've introduced here a year ago, 150 different pieces of legislation on education. That's way too many pieces of legislation.
So, we've got to unite and focus and pull together. And if we do that, I think we can have significantly positive outcomes when it comes to education. But again, we're going to make it the number one focus. We've made it focused on economic development. We're going to shift that focus and do it with education.
And the good news for us all is that they're joined at the hip. We cannot have, in fact, long-term, sustained economic growth if we don't have the skilled labor force necessary that aligns up with the demands of the marketplace.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, are you going to be voting for Donald Trump in November?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I am voting for Donald Trump.
I've mentioned Michael Pence, who's a good friend of mine, and I think adds a lot to the Trump ticket. As I look at those options out there, the — for me, the key issues of Supreme Court nomination, state right issues, I think Mr. Trump provides the best opportunity for those two issues that I feel very significantly about to give us the best outcome, the best results. So, I've said before, you know, I'm voting for Michael Pence. I think he's a great individual. I think he'll bring some stability.
The first decision that the president has had to make, or the nominee to become president, is who's your vice president? He's made a great choice in Michael Pence. I hope that he can make good choices to put people around him that would, again, help him be a successful president.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: But Trump is still the top of the ticket. Are you concerned, from a temperament standpoint, when you see things like public battles with the Gold Star family, comments to Second Amendment supporters, whether vague or not, to take care of Hillary Clinton? Does that concern you at all that we have that in a commander-in-chief?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yeah, well, I'm not the apologist for the Trump campaign, or any campaign out there other than my own. And so, I'm not a political pundit that's going to comment on everything that comes out of the nominees and those who are running for president, which we just had another one join the field here yesterday.
Some of the things that people like about Mr. Trump are his unvarnished comments. Clearly, what pops into his head and comes out his mouth is sometimes not filtered. And people find that refreshing, a politician that's not parsing his words. At the same time, that's off-putting to many others. And clearly, statements have been made that find people being a little bit unsettled about it. So, it's a two-edged sword.
But again, I'm not a spokesman for the Trump campaign. I've got my own issues that I need to deal with here, my own campaign. And I can tell you I'm just focused on governing Utah and making sure that we have the best economy, and education reform, and infrastructure, and transportation needs. That's what the people of Utah want me to concentrate on, and that's what I am concentrating on.
LISA RILEY ROCHE, DESERET NEWS: But governor, you talk about people being unsettled by some of Trump's comments, but politically, others find them refreshing. Isn't the concern, though, that as commander-in-chief — I mean, as you know, as the top of the state government — when you say something, people listen, and people interpret it different ways? Are you concerned that potentially, as commander-in-chief, Trump would be using that kind of unvarnished language, and say those kinds of things that may not just unsettle people, but destabilize our own country?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yeah, I think governing and campaigning are two different things. And how you campaign is not necessarily how you're going to govern, and vice-versa. Again, he's never run for office before, and so, you know, he doesn't have that — maybe this traditional way of doing things. But again, that's been part of his appeal.
But you know, all the candidates seem like say things that I don't agree with. I mean, you talked about Hillary Clinton. I don't like the idea of her saying we're going to close down the coal mines and put coal miners out of work. That impacts our state's economy here and our ability to have inexpensive energy. And people in Carbon, Emery County, and out in the basin are very concerned about that.
I don't like the fact that she said, you know, businesses don't create jobs. I think that — find that's a puzzling statement that, you know, probably warrants some criticism, but I'm not an apologist for Hillary Clinton either.
So again, the public will make those determinations and decisions whether they like or don't like who's running for, and they'll cast their ballot, and we'll see what happens in November.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: In an op-ed in the Deseret News, she mentioned you specifically by name. What are your thoughts on that?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, anytime anybody quotes me, I think they're very smart people, you know? I appreciate the fact that she realizes that the positions that we've taken here in Utah, and my positions specifically, have been good policy and good positions. So, thanks for recognizing that.
MICHAEL ORTON, UTAHPOLITICALCAPITOL.COM: Well, governor, to capitalize on what you were talking about as the exporting state, energy-exporting state that we are, when you got back from Ohio, you met with the Department of Natural Resources chief, your energy chief, and the attorney general all in one day.
And that kind of begs the question as to whether or not, combined with the congressional delegations' efforts in the Four Corners area, is Utah trying to tweak the Antiquities Act like has been done previously since it was signed in 1906 by Teddy Roosevelt for Wyoming and Alaska? Do we have any plans to make inroads in that area?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, it's interesting how you try to connect the dots there because all those meetings were not related to one another, and had no common theme with the Antiquities Act.
That being said, I think the Antiquities Act has been abused. It certainly has been used in ways that was never envisioned by the Congress when they first gave Teddy Roosevelt the authority to do that. We see them taking large swaths of land. It's supposed to be the smallest possible, and there has to be a unique need for preservation of historical artifacts, et cetera. And yet, we see the Grand Staircase-Escalante, for example, at one point 8 or 9 million acres, and now a proposal for another 1.9 million acres. You could cut those in half, and they would still be the biggest monuments ever created in the Continental 48 United States.
So, they're just going beyond what the scope of that is. And I think that should cause everybody some concern, and certainly is causing us concern as we're having this discussion now with the Bears Ears issue. But that being said, that's a congressional issue, and we'll see what happens there. I think there's been some talk about should there in fact be congressional approval on Antiquities Act.
When they passed one in Alaska, it was so egregious, which is the only one probably bigger than anything done in Utah, is they ended up saying, "You cannot do that any longer in Alaska without congressional approval." That was how egregious that monument was. And that's been changed and modified, by the way, since that time. So, there's some concerns about abuse of and use of the Antiquities Act.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Do you have some concerns that Bears Ears is still going to happen, or have you been negotiating with Washington in a way to avert it?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, depends on what you mean by happen. I think everybody seems to have coalesced around the idea that there probably is some need of protection in the Bears Ears area. Certainly, the Native Americans view that as some sacred lands, and that are certainly artifacts and historical needs of preservation. That being said, the question really is what's the best vehicle, in fact, to accomplish that?
I'm concerned as I look at the Grand Staircase-Escalante, I didn't like that process. I think that was very disappointing to not be a part of the discussions that stayed when Mr. Clinton made that designation.
But as we look back at the BLM records, we find 1,400 this past year, 1,400 incidents of desecration and looting and problems taking place on that land. And we look at the Bears Ears, which is open, anybody can go there now, there's no restrictions, you can go out there, and we've had 25 in 5 years. So, 1,400 compared to 5 per year, part of that is because, with a national monument designation, we're in essence saying, "Come, world, come to this area. Come and participate, tourism aspects of this, and come and explore."
Well, for the Native Americans, if they think these are sacred lands, they are just not as inclined to say, "Bring the world here." And particularly if it's going to increase the looting and the destruction of artifacts. So, there is a better way. That's why I support the Public Land Initiative as a national conservation area, which will give the protection and yet the flexibility necessary, and not put kind of an open house sign on the Bears Ears area to have the world come and trample on what the Native Americans think are sacred areas.
I think we can do a better, balanced approach. And the good news for me with the PLI is that we in fact enhance another 16 million acres, and give them protection and conservation, access to 301 miles of stream beds, 20,000 acres of buffer around Arches. You know, we say, "This is where you can drill and develop, and here's where you cannot." And that balanced, optimal approach is what we all ought to be striving for, I think.
MICHELLE PRICE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Governor, you referred to the monument proposal as a political tomahawk, and some people found that comment to be dismissing native voices. What did you mean by that?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I just met with the Native Americans here just a couple of days in my 11th annual Native American summit, which I started when I was lieutenant-governor, and not one person ever made a comment like that. It certainly was not meant to be offensive, it was a metaphor. We were talking about areas of concern for the Native Americans, and the idea of saying this is a “political tomahawk” that's dividing the people seemed at least appropriate at the time.
And at least my comments, and my reaction, and my interface with the Native Americans has been very cordial and good, as it should be. So, maybe some others want to make something out of it. Those are people that looking for making political points and scoring, and just trying to divide us in ways that we don't need to have.
MICHELLE PRICE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: You said it seemed appropriate at the time. Do you regret that comment, or do you still feel it was appropriate?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: You know, again, I think it was a good metaphor at the time, a political tomahawk. You know, dividing us as Native Americans, which is happening down there. The Native Americans are, in fact, divided, and we have people doing that purposely. I don't think that's a good thing. And so, however we divide it, you know, is not a good thing. Again, nobody should take offense, and there was no offense meant.
ROD DECKER, KUTV2: Some months ago, after a law officer was shot by a parolee, you said that there was going to be an investigation. Since then, you've — leadership has changed over the parole board. And yesterday, they came out saying that they have changed. Is there still an investigation, or are you happy now with the way that the parole board …
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Can you remind me again, Rod?
ROD DECKER, KUTV2: The AP — OK. Last November, there was an officer shot, you remember, killed by a guy who maybe should have been in prison, but he was on parole. OK. And after that, you said, "I'm very concerned, and I'm going to investigate."
In addition, the parole bureaucracy, the leadership has changed. Mr. Hudspeth's there now. Are you satisfied, or are we still going to hear some more from that?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, satisfied would indicate that, you know, I think everything's well and everything's done. I don't know that I'm satisfied if that's the definition.
I feel good about the progress being made, and I do believe that now information's going to be filtered down to the parole board so that they have better information to make an informed decision. And if somebody should not be put out on parole, they have the information and the facts to make that judgment.
These halfway houses too, we found that was as big an issue, as a problem. And we're tightening that up to make sure that when they go out on work release, they come back, they report in, that we know what they're doing, and why.
And so, I think there's been some significant strides made in a positive way on our halfway houses and work-release programs. So, both of those areas need to work in concert, and I feel like we've made positive strides. That doesn't mean that I think it's where it needs to be.
ROD DECKER, KUTV2: Is there a pending investigation, or are the changes simply proceeding on their own in the direction you want?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I would need to check and see if the investigation is completed. I have not been given a report that indicates that it's completed.
ROD DECKER, KUTV2: But you did — there was an — I mean, you did order — I remember, okay, you ordered it, and we don't know yet what's come of it.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: That's right. I don't know, and I need to check. Maybe it's completed and I don't know about it, but I usually get a written report, and I have not read that.
TONY SEMERAD, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Governor, the Wasatch Front appears to be in the midst of an affordable housing crunch. Salt Lake City alone says it needs about 10,000 units to meet this demand. Residents are paying larger and larger shares of their incomes on housing. Where is this on your priority list, and what can the state do to help?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, as somebody who came into politics from real estate, and as a contractor, builder, developer, broker in real estate, I understand the significant benefit that the American Dream, which is housing, has on society.
We find that those who have their own home tend to be more involved in the community, more stable, better for raising children, and less transient. So, the American Dream of having your own home is important.
If, in fact, the affordability index is rising, making it more difficult, it's probably an indication of growth, pressures that are coming. We are the fourth or fifth fastest growing state in America, and particularly along the Wasatch Front, although even rural parts of Utah are growing again.
And that's I think healthy. Growth is healthy. But it's a unique challenge we face, and affordable housing is in fact a casualty, can be, that we need to address.
Mostly, that needs to be addressed by the local communities. Zoning laws, smaller lots, helping keep costs down, some of the building codes, some of the cost for permitting, those all add to the cost of housing. And we need to see what we can do to, in fact, keep the cost of housing down. So, higher densities, zoning ordinances, local community control is certainly a part of the solution.
And it's something that's being talked about. We actually have a statute on the books today that requires cities and counties to have an affordable housing plan.
Now, the question is whether we're monitoring that probably as aggressively as we should, and maybe now's the time to reopen that issue and make sure that the cities and municipalities and counties are following that directive in the state statute.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, recently charges against former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff were dropped. Davis County Attorney expressed some frustration in that he did not receive the cooperation he needed to fully and adequately do his job. What are your thoughts on that?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I don't know enough of the details from the prosecutor to even really comment on that. I think for a lot of people, it's, you know, if we're going to charge somebody, you know, that means we have evidence necessary to move ahead. That's the intent. And therefore, you'd have some kind of prosecution.
Whatever happened along the way with Mr. Rawlings, I'm not certain. I know he's made some pronouncements in the public that he didn't get the information he thought he was going to get, was not cooperation from the federal government on this issue. So, I don't know.
What I do know is that I trust the system. I believe we have good people in place, and we have a judicial system that works, and so I trust the system. So, we'll see what the outcome eventually is on this issue, and I have no complaints with the process.
LISA RILEY ROCHE, DESERET NEWS: Governor, if we could talk about your re-election campaign for a moment. You're more than 40 points ahead in the new poll of your Democratic opponent, Mike Weinholtz. But I see that the Republican Governors Association has contributed a quarter of a million dollars to your campaign.
I'm guessing they don't give that kind of money in a race that seems as much of a blowout as it does now. Why such a big contribution, and how do you see your campaign going forward? Is it going to tighten up considerably?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I feel very good about the polling numbers. A 41-point lead is encouraging, and I think that our message has resonated. We see with the results of the primary election, a 44-point margin there, and clearly we've got, I believe, a very successful track record and a vision for the future of Utah that resonates with the people of Utah.
But I did run an expensive primary. And so, that's depleted my resources. And so, you've got to now rebuild money to run a traditional campaign. And the media people, which you're a part of, are smart. They know that with increased political activity, the ad rates go up.
And the cost of doing a media campaign, which is part and parcel of what we need to do for the November election, is expensive. And I appreciate the fact that the Republican Governors Association said, "Hey, you're back down to having fewer dollars, let us help you." I've helped them raise money for the RGA.
I've never received any money from them ever in the past. So, I think it's a reflection of I just have to have some money, not that they don't think that I have margin and have capability of winning.
Again, it's — I'm not blessed with personal wealth. I can't write out a check for $1 million or $2 or $3 million like my opponent can, so I've got to do it the old-fashioned way and raise money where I can. And I appreciate that my governors, my colleagues are out there saying, "Hey, we'll help you replenish your campaign finance account, and here's a little help."
LISA RILEY ROCHE, DESERET NEWS: You've got the Governor's Gala coming up to help you do that as well. Any big guests anticipated? I've heard Governor Pence might make an appearance.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, the first lady will be there. And for me, that's — it doesn't get any better than that.
So, Jeanette will be there. I expect she'll have a good program. She's really in charge of putting our gala together. And we'll see what available opportunities are available out there, and who our special guests are.
We traditionally, though, have, you know, Utah talent and Utah guests and most of the time, and I expect this will be something similar. This is going to be the day before Constitution Day, September the 16th, so it'll be kind of a celebration of our Constitution, our heritage. And it'll fit nicely, I think, into kind of energizing people about their own opportunity to be civically involved, and responsibility to make sure they get out and vote.
LISA RILEY ROCHE, DESERET NEWS: So, that's a no on Governor Pence?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I don't say it's a no, but it may be a long-shot chance.
ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Governor, we have about 30 seconds left. I'm just wondering if you're watching the Olympics. Utah has the highest population--or percentage of people watching the Olympics across the United States. I'm wondering if you have anything to say about any Utah ties?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I'm a proud American, and I appreciate the successes we see in the Summer Games in Rio. I think the fact that we hosted the Winter Games here has made us all a little bit more energized and paying more rapt attention to the Olympics.
And we're also kind of sports fans. Utah's called "Utah, the state of sport," our slogan. And the Olympics is the number one showcase for athletes, and so I think we're all paying attention, and we wish our Utah colleagues well at the Rio Games.
ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Thank you for joining us again today, governor.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: This has been "The Governor's Monthly News Conference."
An archive of transcripts, video and audio is available online. Please visit kued.org. Thanks for joining us.