SALT LAKE CITY — Outgoing Utah Gov. Gary Herbert gave his final speech as governor on Monday in a prerecorded video, urging Utahns to “work together in a spirit of common decency and mutual respect” and reject political divisiveness tugging at the state’s and nation’s seams amid a time of crisis.
Herbert said the COVID-19 pandemic — which threw an enormous curveball to the retiring governor just as he was headed out of office, disrupting the state’s record-low unemployment rates and booming economy — has “impacted virtually everyone’s lives.”
“Each of us have faced challenges, whether psychologically, economically or emotionally,” Herbert said. “This is not an easy time for anyone. And we all look for the day when health and social normalcy can be restored. With COVID-19 vaccines now being given across our state, there is finally light at the end at the tunnel. But we are still in a very long and dark tunnel.
“If there was ever a time where we need collaboration and cooperation, it is now,” Herbert said, calling the pandemic “one of the biggest trials in the history of our state.”
“If there was ever a time that compels each one of us to step up and do our part, it is now,” Herbert said. “We must stand together with mutual respect and civility for the benefit of all. And we must profoundly reject the politics of divisiveness and acrimony. We have too much at stake to abandon the spirit of working together and community well-being that was forged like iron in a fire by Utah pioneers 174 years ago.”
Herbert’s 10-minute speech, recorded from the parlor of the Utah Governor’s Mansion he has called home for more than a decade, was released Monday evening, capping of his 11 1⁄2 years as Utah’s governor. Monday marked one week before Herbert’s successor, his own Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, is slated to be inaugurated as Utah’s next governor.
Herbert said he has “great hope and expectation for Utah and Utah’s future,” and also has “great hope and expectation for Gov.-elect Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson.
“Spencer is deeply rooted in Utah values. He has a great mind and a good heart. He has a strong work ethic from growing up on a farm and, like me, he believes in the people of Utah,” Herbert said. “I encourage you to stand with him, and he will lead Utah to new heights never before imagined.”
As Herbert prepared to leave office, he called serving as Utah’s governor “the greatest honor and privilege of my professional life.
“It has been an improbable journey for me, and I have not taken a single moment of this experience for granted,” he said. “I am truly grateful for the trust you have placed in me through my years of service.”
Herbert said he learned from “great leaders,” including former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. — for whom Herbert worked as lieutenant governor, and who sought to take back the post when he ran against Cox this year.
Along with Cox, Herbert also gave shoutouts to former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell (whom Cox replaced after Bell stepped down, citing a need to earn more money to meet financial obligations and plan for retirement), and his three chiefs of staff: Jason Perry, Derek MIller, and Justin Harding. He also gave a special thanks to his wife, Jeanette Herbert, for serving as the first lady of Utah and for her support.
Herbert also lauded his “dedicated Cabinet members,” legislators and other state employees who “show up to work every day, roll up their sleeves and go to work to serve the people of Utah.” He also gave accolades to public safety and first responders, and saluted the men and women of the Utah National Guard.
He applauded his own security detail for working with “professionalism” while also forging close friendships. And he said he’s “enjoyed working closely with the great leaders of our business community and the private sector, who work hard to bring economic opportunity to the people of our state.”
Herbert credited the “many great leaders at the federal, state and local levels” for a thriving business community over the past decade. And Herbert said Utah is “equally blessed” in education, with “tens of thousands of extremely capable teachers, professors and administrators” who have prepared “hundreds of thousands of students to be leaders and contributors of our society.”
“But it is the everyday ordinary people of Utah that have inspired me the most,” Herbert said. “I am proud not to be just a voice of the people but of all the people — people who toil in sacrifice and do their best, and do so without a lot of recognition but add so much to the fabric and success of our great state.”
Herbert said Utahns are “honest, hard working and friendly. They are good people who truly care about their neighbors and the well-being of others.”
“That is what sets our state apart,” he continued. “Working beside you and seeing firsthand the goodness and generosity you have shown one another has really been extraordinary.”
Herbert lauded Utah’s growth over the past year, noting that about 550,000 Utahns now live in the state “who didn’t live here when I was first inaugurated.” He celebrated its booming economy and record-low unemployment rate, which reached 2.3% a year ago, before the pandemic hit. Today, Utah’s unemployment rate lingers at around 4.3%, among the states with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
“As others have said, this has been the best decade in Utah history,” he said.
But with all the good memories, Herbert said Utah has seen its fair share of difficulties, “everything from earthquakes to fires to floods and windstorms.”
It’s hard to witness the devastation and loss of homes and property. But my heart has always been touched to see outpouring of kindness and sacrifice made by so many who are willing to roll up their sleeves and give up their time to bring some peace, comfort and support to those in need,” Herbert said. “That is the culture of Utah during such calamities. We have a sense of community in Utah that is like no other in the nation.”
Amid the state’s challenges, Herbert said “solutions will come as we work together in a spirit of common decency and mutual respect.”
“I know this is true,” Herbert said, pointing back to when he first took office in 2009, and Utah and the nation were “in the depths of the Great Recession.”
“We rose from that low point and built the top performing and most diverse economy in the nation,” the governor said.
Herbert also lauded state officials for developing a 10-year energy plan, expanding infrastructure, and recognizing air and water as “priceless resources that were being pushed to the limit.” He noted that Utah is now compliant with federal air quality requirements and is “planning for the next 50 years of our water needs.”
Herbert also applauded the state for “making great strides in dealing with some very difficult but important issues,” including education funding, Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform, homelessness, nondiscrimination and racial equality.
“As this important chapter of my life now comes to a close, I will be forever grateful for all the good things we have accomplished and for the opportunity I have had to work side by side with you,” Herbert said. “Together, we’ve accomplished great things by following some of the best advice my father ever gave me: ‘Work will win when wishy washy wishing won’t.’ I know this is kind of cheesy, but it’s a true principle. A good work ethic solves a lot of problems.”
On his way out, Herbert made a final request to Utahns: “Please share your stories of what has made the state great with your children.”
“Teach them to honor and to respect and to revere those who have gone before,” Herbert said. “Those who have sacrificed to make this state the best place on earth to live to work and to raise a family. And to have the opportunity to find true success in all aspects of life.”
Herbert said the state of Utah “is and can continue to be that beacon of light and hope for others to look up to and to learn from.”
“I love this state. I love the good people of this state. It’s been the greatest honor imaginable for me to be able to serve you,” Herbert said in closing. “My prayer is that God will bless you, my fellow Utahns, and that he will bless this great country of America and he will continue to bless the great state of Utah.
“Goodnight and farewell.”