But Cooke’s theme for his campaign was struck hard: “I’m a leader, not a salesman.”
By that the former Army general means that Herbert has done a pretty good job selling Utah, but Cooke wants to build Utah and take on some of the challenges, like proper education funding, while Herbert and other governors have “just kicked the can down the road.”
In his statements before the annual meeting of the Utah League of Cities and Towns debate, hosted by KSL Radio’s Doug Wright show, Herbert said he can’t accept Cooke’s bleak presentation of Utah life.
“We are No. 1 in the nation as the best place to do business,” said Herbert, as he ticked off a few more economic achievements.
“That’s not me saying it, it’s outsiders” evaluating Utah’s economy, said Herbert after Cooke listed various economic factors that he says shows Utah is lagging, not gaining.
In an impromptu news conference with local reporters just after the debate ended, Herbert said he understands that some Utahns are still suffering.
“But we are leading the nation in climbing out of this big economic hole, the worst since the Great Depression.”
Cooke says it’s not good enough.
And Herbert has been “asleep at the switch” on a number of critical problems Utah is now facing.
One is job creation. “The governor is selling Utah jobs short” by saying we have low wages in Utah, and thus it is a good place to do business, said Cooke.
It is a complaint heard before.
Way back in the days of former Utah GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter, in the 1980s, Bangerter once told visiting business leaders that Utah’s relative low pay scales, but well educated and dedicated workforce, is a drawing card in the state’s economic development.
Bangerter was criticized at the time by Utah Democrats.
Now Cooke is saying much the same thing.
“Leadership is about results,” Herbert told a gaggle of news reporters outside of the Sheraton Hotel. “I’m not just selling the state – and I’m not selling the state cheap,” the governor said.
The economic achievements during the Herbert administration are real, the governor said.
“We have serious problems” in Utah, countered Cooke. “Serious problems based on facts.” And Herbert just won’t address those facts, he added.
From his experience as an Army Reserve general, Cooke said Hill Air Force Base is in real trouble as the next phase of BRAC, or the base closure commission, starts in 2015.
“The governor was asleep at the switch” when an Oklahoma Air Force Base got more maintenance responsibility than did Hill.
Herbert denies that was the case, and said Hill will stand on its own merits, both as a maintenance and text range leader, and won’t be closed by BRAC.
Everyone in the know, knows that, said the governor.
“There have been strong achievements” in Utah over the last five years, he added. “Really good things are happening here; we are on the road to economic recovery.”
“There is a lot to applaud when we get past this silly season” of campaigning “with all this negativism ad nausea,” said Herbert.
Cooke said while Utah does need to gain control of more public lands in the state, the Legislature and Herbert were off base starting a lawsuit against the federal government before even having a plan on how to develop millions of federal acres of land.
Even if Utah got all the federal land in the state, turning it into profit-producing enterprises “will take 15 years,” said Cooke, and public education’s problems can’t wait that long.
In the mean time, Utah state government could be stuck with all kinds of expenses, like $50 million in fighting wild fires seen this summer, said Cooke.
When Herbert explained how he was the guy who got the Utah Education Association and pro-voucher advocates to sit down on a panel to figure out how to move education forward, Cooke replied: “You’ve had a long time” to fix public education.
“It’s time for someone to take over and make it happen. I’ve got the guts and ability to solve our education problem,” said Cooke.
One, perhaps small, issue “shows the difference between me and Peter,” said Herbert.
When wild fires were consuming large parts of Utah this spring and early summer, Cooke said the state should step in and ban fireworks, said Herbert.
“Instead, I worked with local governments” to stop some shooting on dry lands while encouraging local governments to decide how fireworks should be handled in their “own backyards.”
Referring to Cooke, Herbert said he didn’t “just charge up San Juan Hill, ready to fire and then aim, and take away (local government officials’) responsibilities you were elected to have.”
No general would charge up a hill with no plan, said Cooke, who said he took offense at that comment.
“I was pointing out a lack of leadership.” In a new Cooke administration, “next year we’d have a plan, and (locals) would have complete power to do what you need to do” in dealing with wild fire dangers.
Herbert hasn’t “stood tall” and taken responsibility and lead in a number of areas, like protecting Utah water rights, said Cooke.
“I have stood tall,” said Herbert. “I’ve drawn a line in the sand and will protect our water, especially from a Democratic (U.S.) senator from Nevada who is trying to build a pipeline across BLM land (to transfer Utah water south to Las Vegas).
“We stopped that from happening and we aren’t going to give away our water to anyone.”
Cooke, usually a mild-manner, reasoned stump speaker, lit into Herbert at the end of the debate, at times slapping his hand on the debate podium.
Looking at Herbert, Cooke said: “You are selling our state to have cheap labor and no education to back us up. I know how to fight, and we need that kind of people in office today. I’m ready to fight; and not sell, but lead.”
Said Herbert: “We are hitting home run after home run” in pushing Utah’s economy forward. And it’s Herbert who will lead that way, as he has before.