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"It is a beautiful summer day out there, and I know it's a time for families to take off and have family vacations to kind of travel and go up in the mountains and have recreational opportunities." Governor Herbert
ANNOUNCER: KUED presents the Governor's Monthly News Conference, an exchange between Utah reporters and Governor Gary Herbert.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Good morning.
REPORTERS: Good morning, Governor.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: It's a beautiful day out there and thank you to coming to our press conference today. Let me just begin by saying it is a beautiful summer day out there, and I know it's a time for families to take off and have family vacations to kind of travel and go up in the mountains and have recreational opportunities.
I just got off the phone talking to Sheriff Perkins. As you know, Tuesday I was down at Brian Head and taking a look at the fire down there and the winds have kicked up. The Bark Beetle Kill has been a difficult thing. The terrain's tough. What was 1100, 1200 acres is up to 11,000 acres. It has now crossed the line over into Garfield County and a serious fire. About 400 homes now are being evacuated in the Garfield side of the line, east of Iron County. It continues to spread. I appreciate the collaboration. There's a great working relationship between the local community and fire suppression efforts with the state and with the Federal Government and I have every confidence that they'll get their handle on this and get this contained. It just brings to mind that we are in a time of real difficult fire hazard season.
This fire, as has been mentioned, was man-caused. As we look at the statistics and we see that typically during the fire season we have about half of the fire are man-caused, that means they're preventable. This year to date three quarters, 75% of all the fires we have have been man-caused, which means they're preventable. Just this last week alone we had 25 wildfires and we had one in the middle of the city of Orem. And eight of these have threatened structures. So again, we the people, need to be more diligent and vigilant in our activities outdoors. We want people to be safe this summer.
That means, you know, as they're going down the roads and highways be safe as you go to your destination. Be careful about water, lakes, ponds, rivers. But particularly be mindful of the tinder like conditions we have out there with a hot summer that's drawing out the moisture content. We want our people to be safe. We want them to have a happy summer, but be careful again.
By the way, let me just give you some areas of concern that maybe we ought to be aware of too. One less spark, as we say, will maybe be one less fire. So be careful with firearms, fireworks. Again, it's the season. Particularly anything with an open flame. We're asking people that have homes, cabin sites, that they in fact have a defensible space that they clear around their home so they can protect themselves in case of fire. We need more of that. We encourage people that are looking for some counsel of what to do with their properties that they have up in the mountain lands to go to firewise.org. Firewise.org. If you want to have a look at some restrictions we mentioned we put in place to help give us some guidance on what you can and can't do with fire and fireworks, et cetera, where can you do these things appropriately and where are they banned. You can go to utahfireinfo.gov. Utahfireinfo.gov. To get that information on the latest restrictions. More of them will be coming as we go through the summer. With that, I'm open to questions that you might have on your mind.
ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Governor, today the U.S. Senate has released their healthcare bill and before we get into specifics on that, I'm just curious what you think of how the process went. I mean, you went through a very public process with the Healthy Utah Health Proposal and Mike Lee, he was not pleased with the process. John McCain was not pleased with the process. I'm wondering what you thought about the process of how this has come about.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think the more open and inclusive the process can be the better the outcome. Now, I understand there's 435 members of the House and 100 Senators and to get them all together on the same page is probably a difficult thing. You've got to start somewhere. If you can't get leadership together, how do you get the rest of the body to follow? I think having openness and transparency is important. I understand they, the Senate, has just released their version of healthcare reform. I have not had a chance to look at it. I know that it mirrors, I think very similarly what I've been told the House version.
I talked to Senator Hatch coincidentally just yesterday on this issue and the concern the states have of making sure whatever reform comes about that we have level playing fields, that all states are treated equally. We don't think those that have expanded Medicaid should be treated differently than those that have not expanded Medicaid, for example. We also recognize as states that the federal government has got to in fact say, "Here's how much money "we have to spend." And say, "This is it." And we have to live within our means as a federal government and apportion the monies out to the states in some form or fashion where we have to live within our means. And I think if we do that, the states actually would have the flexibility to come up with, in fact, a healthcare program which would be reflective of the needs of the respective states. Frankly, not be a budget buster. Would be sustainable, and provide good quality healthcare for those who really are the most vulnerable amongst us. Which is really the intent of healthcare reform.
I'm cautiously optimistic. I think more openness and inclusiveness is important. I know I've been told this morning they want to have a vote on this before the Fourth of July recess which seems like a little bit of a short time to read the papers, and I think there's like 111, 115 papers I am told. I don't know for sure. But then I hearken back to the original Affordable Care Act of 2,700 pages which the House and the Senate were allowed three days to read. And the infamous words of the Speaker of the House then, Nancy Pelosi, "We've got to pass it "to find out what's in it." So, I don't think that's good process. I think there needs to be more understanding, debate, and discussion.
MICHAEL ORTON, UTAHPOLITICALCAPITOL.COM: You have a lot of experience, Governor, working with this in years past. Especially with the topic of Medicaid expansion and trying to make that work for Utah. The preliminary information that we're getting out of Washington indicates that states will have a lot of input and adaptability to be able to make this work. How do you see that working? Are you going to emphasize similar solutions that you've tried to do in years past? Do you think that the new administration will assist in that respect?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: What I do believe is the new administration, the Trump-Pence administration, I've talked specifically about this with Vice President Pence, is certainly willing to give more flexibility to the states. For me, a block grant would be the best of all worlds. Just give me the money, we'll figure it out and do what we need to do in Utah. We already have the lowest cost healthcare in America in Utah. It's not like we're not doing things well. We have a lower percentage of those who are uninsured, about 13% compared to the national average of about 15. We have less people in poverty. Our Medicaid rates are low. We end up having a person on Medicaid average length of time is about nine months.
Again, we've got a healthy economy that helps us get people off government assistance and to be into a sustainable job for themselves. I think, again, giving the flexibility to the states is a good step in the right direction. We are concerned about making sure that we don't buy something today we cannot afford tomorrow. Is the Federal Government going to keep their promises of giving us back our money they taxed us in the first place? The aspect of affordability and sustainability are clearly big issues. And I think the ability for us to have, in fact, requirements that go along with government assistance. For example, in Utah, we wanted to have a work requirement. We'll give you the healthcare but we're also going to help you get a job. Get skills, training, and education, and you have to be a participant in that if you want the government to help you with healthcare, we're going to help you get a job so you can sustain yourself and get off government assistance.
The Obama Administration would not let us do that. I think this administration will. The ability for us to cap enrollment and contain costs and put parameters in there that will in fact have kind of a quid pro quo involvement are things, at least in Utah, we would like to see.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, one of the big things with the Affordable Care Act was that it was passed without one Republican vote. It appears we're on the exact same trajectory here where it's going to possibly pass with no Democratic vote. Are you concerned about this cycle that every time the pendulum swings we're going to have a massive overhaul of healthcare?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I am. And I talked with Senator Hatch about that the other day. I've said before that for the previous administration, wouldn't it have been nice if they had come up with a plan where they said, "At least let's get 30% of the Republicans to vote with us so it can be somewhat of a bipartisan plan." I think with a little effort, a little leadership, that could actually happen. I think the same thing is true here. I told Senator Hatch, it would be nice if you could in fact get some Democrats to support you. I think Democratic governors would love to have more flexibility. They may want to keep what they've got in place now and mirror it as precise as they can. Maybe it's going to cost them a little more money to subsidize it of their own budget but at least they can control their own destiny and do what they want. I think over time there will be a homogenization of the states' healthcare approaches.
We'll learn from each other and we'll probably gravitate towards similar things. Maybe not exactly the same but similar and I think even Democrat governors would like to have more flexibility to implement the program. I think there's a way to have more bipartisan support and I would hope that the Republicans would reach across the aisle and get Democrat support.
BOB BERNICK, UTAHPOLICY.COM: Governor, let's move for just a second to some local politics and, of course, the disagreements between you and the legislative leaders on this Attorney General's opinion. There seems to be some wish in the House Republican Caucus at least that you call a special session just so they can uphold what you've done in the third district race process so that the courts will be less likely to overturn it. Are you inclined at all to call a special session with those understandings?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: If there's an agreement to codify what we've put in place of the election, that's not a problem for me. Of course, this is the first I've heard about it. Thank you for being the lobbyist on behalf of the legislature. What I have tried to do is follow the law. As the executive branch, I have to execute under the law and the requirements for me to call a special session and a special election are empowered in the law.
We've talked about it, worked with legislative leadership about should we have a special session but the only proposal I had was an alternative to what we have on the books today, which is a pretty good process of how we conduct elections. A process that the legislature, its leadership gave to me was let's just have a majority vote plus one. 50% plus one will bypass any kind of runoff, no primary and that will become the nominee of the party for the Republican side. That's never been done in our history. We've always had runoffs. If you can't get some kind of threshold of consensus, then let's go to the people. I was very concerned that in doing that, which I thought was bad policy, that we disenfranchised in the third Congressional district about 190,000 registered Republicans who would like to have a say on who their next Congressperson was going to be.
We know from historical precedent that whoever is the Republican nominee, chances are is going to be the elected official in November. And chances are will be there for a long time, 10, 12 years or longer. And so, it was important to me at least that the voice of the people allowed to be heard. Now if they want to come back and say, "Well, we like what the governor's done. "We think the process is good and we want to codify that." That's a different issue. That's now past tense and that's something I certainly would be willing to entertain.
REPORTER: Do you believe the lawsuit filed by Jim Bennet and the United Utah Party that that has the potential to derail the election at all?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: No, I think it's a separate issue. The election process, under the law, I believe we're on very solid legal footing. We've done and mirror what's already on the books as far as the election process. We're following the law in Utah and we see precedent for what we've done in other states.
So, this is not really something new that we've invented. I think that process will continue. What I think Mr. Bennett is saying, "I want to be on the ballot." And, of course, we try to follow the law. That's what we do in the Executive Branch. We don't make law. We follow the law. We execute the law. And clearly his party was not qualified at the time he tried to in fact sign up and announce his candidacy. If they're now a qualified party, if the courts say to us, "Well okay, he's qualified," and it's in time enough to put him on the ballot for November and the general election, I have no problem with that. But we will follow the law in the Executive Branch. That's what we are asked to do and that's what we are doing.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: There have been some accusations and insinuations that your office blocked this opinion, this legal opinion from the Attorney General to the legislature. Did you or your office go after some of these attorneys saying we'll take this to the state bar, threaten their law licenses?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: That's patently false. There's not been any threat to anybody. There's not been anybody's license threatened. There certainly has been a dialogue as my attorney, the Attorney General under our constitution and under our statutes is my attorney, attorney to the Executive Branch, and consequently there was some concerns about conflicting the Attorney General so that he would have a difficult time defending me on lawsuits and litigation. The Legislature has actually sent a letter to the Attorney General saying that we may sue. That's a hostile environment so we need to make sure we don't have the Attorney General conflicted out.
So, under the ethics rules in this unique situation, by the way, can everyone realize this is a very unique circumstance that's never happened before in our state. So we're all kind of trying to find our way here. But the client attorney privilege is something that needs to be protected and preserved. Because of that concern, jointly the Attorney General's Office and the lady that's our line person, a lady by the name of Bridget Romano, working with JC Skinner, my general council, said, "Let's go see the bar" and the ethics commission there and talk to the chairman of that and ask the question. "Are we on some thin ice here?" And the answer came back, "Yes, you are." And so under the professional conduct rules for attorneys, the suggestion was, "You be careful there." And the Attorney General themselves and their office said, "In light of that we are not going to release this opinion because we don't want to be conflicted out."
They want to follow the laws of professional conduct for attorneys and they don't want to, if in fact, not be able to represent us if in fact we are called into court to defend our actions. No threats, just good policy and good procedure. We're working very closely with the Attorney General.
ROBERT GEHRKE, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: If you're confident that you're on sound legal footing, why not have the AG's office issue an opinion saying as much? Or are you not confident that the opinion, if released, would say that?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: You miss my point, Robert. The point is you do not want to have a conflict where your attorney is conflicted. Let me just give you a sports analogy. I like sports. If you were the coach of the University of Utah, you may want to, in fact, talk to the offensive coordinator of BYU and say, "Tell me what your opinion is on offense. "How are you going to do your running game? "How are you going to do the passing game? "What do you do with your wide receivers? "Et cetera, give me some information. "I'd like to know what your opinion is on offense." If you're not going to play against each other, that might be an okay thing to do. But if you were going to have a game this Saturday, it would not be probably a very appropriate and proper thing to do, you would be conflicted out. That's the same thing.
We have professional rules of conduct for attorneys that say you can't put yourself in a position, you can't represent both sides of the equation. It's not about the opinion. We need to make that clear. It is not about the opinion. It is about, in fact, client attorney privilege. By the way, let me just add this. We recognize that there's a difference of opinion. This is not news. They spent about an hour and a half with their own legal team defining to the body here a couple days ago what their legal opinion is which is contrary to mine. What's another opinion going to do? We don't know what the opinion is. I can tell you, we don't know what the opinion is. And I'm not sure, unless there's been some leak, that the legislature knows what the opinion is. But it doesn't matter.
We're trying to protect client-attorney privilege and the only way to resolve the differences of opinion. Again, can I emphasize these are opinions? It doesn't mean it's law. It means this is an opinion. The only way to reconcile those differences of opinion really is to go to court and let the courts make a decision or, what I think is a better process, if we think there's lack of specificity and clarity, that's why we have a General Session where you can, in fact, take a look at where we want to clarify or add to or take from, get public input, have committee hearings, have a process where everybody's included and come up with good policy through a legislative session. That would happen, I expect, in 2018.
ROBERT GEHRKE, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: If we could boil this down to just the main objection from the legislature is that the constitution says you can call an election when a vacancy occurs and since we don't have a resignation, we don't have a vacancy, you can't call an election. What authority do you have to call an election?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: It's in the statutes now. I'm required to call a special ex, I'd be derelict in my duty if I didn't do it.
ROBERT GEHRKE, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: When a vacancy occurs, though, do you feel like we have a vacancy at this point?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Let me tell you about Jim Scarborough. You all know the Congressman from Florida, Morning Joe. Exact same thing happened in Florida. He resigned, took a job with MSNBC as a political analyst. That may be similar to what's happening with Congressman Chaffetz. They actually conducted the election before he left the office. There's clearly precedent around the country of what we're doing. We've talked to the Department of Justice. We've talked with the Congressional folks in Washington, DC. I've talked personally with Paul Ryan. They will seat our person.
They have the authority to seat who they will. We think we're on very solid legal footing. Again, we recognize there are differences of opinion out there and we can reconcile those differences in one of two ways but we believe we've been given good, solid legal advice from the Attorney General and others, we're on solid legal footing. We do recognize there's a difference of opinion. We recognize the quote that's used all the time, separation of powers. We respect and understand that the legislature wants to, in fact, protect their rights as the legislature. But please understand and respect that the Executive Branch has the same passion for protecting our rights as the Executive Branch. Doesn't mean we're enemies. It means we have differences of opinion and we're protecting our turf as outlined in our Constitution and our statutes. That's all that's going on here.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: Governor, when you said, "We don't even know "what the opinion is," were you referring to the Attorney General's opinion?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Yes.
GLEN MILLS, ABC4: You don't know what's in the Attorney General's opinion?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: We do not know. We do not know what's been written, if anything has been written.
BOB BERNICK, UTAHPOLICY.COM: I don't know if they're going to do it or not but now they're talking about running a constitutional amendment so they can call themselves into special session if voters approve under certain circumstances. Now, you don't get a veto on a constitutional amendment, but certainly you would have an opinion on it. Right now you're the only guy who can call a special session and you set the agenda. Would you favor or oppose the Legislature getting a constitutional amendment so they could call themselves into special session?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: They can call themselves into a veto override session so they do have ability. And that's certainly a discussion that we can have. You know, there's probably pros and cons on their ability to do that themselves. The system we have in place has worked very well for many years.
This is, again, kind of a unique circumstance, probably emotions are a little bit high here. And we need to count 10 and think methodically about what is good policy and then drift towards that direction. Again, at the end of the day we ought to represent what the public wants, is a representative form of government and I expect we'll do that. You know, we get along very well. When you think of the process, we pass 500 plus bills every year. 90% of them are kind of unanimous or nearly unanimous and the Democrat, Republican, and the Governor's Office work very closely together. We don't have many vetoes. I don't want this to overshadow the fact that we get along very well with the legislature and create good policy.
ROBERT GEHRKE, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Are you concerned that the relationship is going to be damaged long term as a result of this?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: No. Again, we've got good leadership. We've got good people in the body, again, elected to do their responsibility and I think at the end of the day they do a pretty darn good job of that. We're trying to do our job as outlined in the law. I know they're trying to do their job too, so I expect that whatever this conflict is will be resolved.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Governor, back to the issue of wildfires burning in Utah and we are in the season. We're about ready to have the season where fireworks can be sold. This comes up continually, especially as we get more fires that are related to those. Are you going to ban fireworks this year?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: That remains to be seen. Generally, that comes with our Department of Natural Resources that have statewide authority on fire and what can happen particularly on our public lands. We will have probably the work done with the local communities. We've had mayors and county officials have taken steps to have some restrictions put in place as far as where you can in fact set off fireworks, where you can in fact shoot your firearms, those kinds of things. Where campgrounds are open and available for an open flame. So it'll be a probably a collaborative effort between the state, our Department of Natural Resources, and our local community government as far as what restrictions we put in place.
BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: But what about an all-out ban?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I don't know whether we'll have an all-out ban. I have no plans for an all-out ban right now. But there may be a restriction as far as where you can have fireworks. I know here a few years ago when we had a similar kind of situation we had some of the communities that opened up parking lots where they had big area space of asphalt and said, "Come here if you want fireworks "to go off, come and do them here where we do not create "a fire hazard."
MICHAEL ORTON, UTAHPOLITICALCAPITOL.COM: In rural parts of the state, Governor, there's a lot, as you probably know, there are a lot of local authorities that have already put in place fire and burn bans on a part of rural operations, that kind of thing. Does that seem like a disconnect if we don't call some kind of control on fireworks when we're already at such a risk for fire danger?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I believe we need to be in a cooperative, collaborative mode. So if we have local government that says, "Hey, we've got a real acute problem down here. "State we need your help, county we need your help." We certainly should listen and understand and collaborate together so I don't think they're mutually exclusive. We just need to communicate well and I think we'd be very supportive of what the local communities would like to see us do.
ROBERT GEHRKE, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Studies have indicated that climate change has doubled the fire risk across the west when President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, there were calls on local leaders to take a more active role in stepping up and filling that void. What is Utah prepared to do to fill that void if anything?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think we're already doing what needs to be done. Whether there's a Paris Accord or not is probably irrelevant to the trajectory of the state of Utah. We're working very closely on making sure we're good stewards of the Earth. The issue that comes up all the time is about energy, and what kind of energy should we be utilizing, what kind of fuel and we know that the marketplace wants sustainability and they want affordability and they want cleaner. And I'm pleased to see Utah now.
We're the largest user of wind power. We're building a big solar farm out in the west desert. We have geothermal and hydro still being utilized here so we have greener fuels which, by the way, are becoming more economically competitive. That's the good news. Likewise, the market pressures are taking traditional fuels, carbon based fuels, and making them cleaner. Whether the Paris Accord is there or not, Utah is going to continue to advance towards sustainability, affordability, and cleaner in our energy development.
ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Governor, we have just about a minute left. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about Bears Ears and Ryan Zinke's announcement. Do you know how much he wants to reduce the Bears Ears National Monument by and what is Utah's role going forward?
GOVERNOR HERBERT: I don't know. I think that he's going to try to get local input to say what would be the appropriate size and dimensions of the Bears Ears Monument. By the way, that does not mean that that's the only part that's going to be protected. The BLM has the ability in fact to protect all their land with enhancements, declaring some conservation, recreation areas, as well as the monument.
There's probably a variety of ways to protect those areas that need protection. And so, I just think that what he's saying is, "I want to make it, reduce it to some smaller size, "but still have protections over all the BLM property there "that would be appropriate to what needs protection "on the land." The artifacts need protection. That may encompass only 500,000 acres but there's other areas that maybe need protection. And so, I think the process he put in place is a good one. I think it's a logical one and we'll have to wait and see what they decide to propose.
ERIK NEILSEN, KUED: Well, Governor, thank you very much for joining us this month.
GOVERNOR HERBERT: Thank you. Great to be with you as always. Be safe.
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.