Utah Gov. Herbert quickly changing state's course

Utah Gov. Herbert quickly changing state's course



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has barely been in office a month, but he's not wasting any time charting a more conservative course than his predecessor on the very issues Jon Huntsman used to vault to national prominence within the GOP and an ambassadorship to China.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Herbert outlined how he is skeptical of how much humans affect global warming; that he fears protecting gay people from discrimination could lead to courts legalizing gay marriage; and said he has no desire to do any more to bring Utah's liquor laws in line with much of the country.

It is a marked shift from Huntsman, the most popular governor in state history, who had a habit of angering the conservatives that dominate state party politics.

Herbert will need those conservatives if he wants to win the GOP nomination in May, although his comments aren't just political posturing.

Huntsman, 49, and Herbert, 62, have long held different views reflective of their backgrounds, but Huntsman needed Herbert on his ticket to get elected in 2004.

The California-born Huntsman is a multimillionaire from his family's chemical business. He served as a U.S. diplomat and earned a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania after serving a church mission in Taiwan.

In speeches and conversation, Huntsman gives the impression of a professorial policy wonk with a global focus.

Herbert is plain spoken and folksy. Except for a two-year church mission on the East Coast, he has lived in Utah his entire life. He attended Brigham Young University, but never graduated. A former realtor from Orem, Herbert's family business was small and his income modest for someone with six children.

While more inwardly focused than Huntsman, Herbert has learned that plenty of people outside Utah pay attention to what he does and says.

Herbert experienced the wrath of gay rights advocates around the country last month when he said sexual orientation shouldn't be a protected class, dismissing the idea by saying it could lead to blue-eyed blondes seeking similar rights.

Less than six months earlier, Huntsman won praise for Utah from those same advocates for saying he supported civil unions and other legal protections.

Herbert told the AP this week that extending legal rights to gay people could threaten a state constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage.

"We do have a constitution that's been amended that says ... it's against the law of Utah to have gay marriage or things similar to that, which would include civil unions. And so a protected class presents some conflicting arguments," he said. "I just don't think we need to go there and I'm not prepared to go there for those reasons."

Herbert reiterated that he doesn't believe discriminating against people is OK, but says government shouldn't intervene.

Herbert noted that companies have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, but he said he wouldn't institute one for the executive branch.

"As far as I know there's not any question that we ever ask for anybody that gets employed what their sexual persuasion is or preference, so those policies are really in place now," he said. "I don't think we need to fix something that aint broke."

When asked if it is OK for state employees to be fired for being gay, Herbert said no, adding "I can tell you it won't happen on my watch."

He didn't elaborate on how he would do that.

Gay rights isn't a Herbert priority, but developing energy resources is. Unlike Huntsman though, Herbert isn't sold on the need to curb carbon emissions as part of the fight against global warming.

Herbert only speaks of carbon emissions in terms of how they affect air and water quality, not global temperatures.

"I'm not taking a position as far as, you know, the impact man does have on it. I think it's a little more unclear and less black and white than proponents on both sides of this issue seem to want to declare," he said.

Herbert, who counts energy companies among his largest political donors, is organizing a conference for later this year which he has said will be the first 'legitimate' debate on humans affect on climate change.

"I have agreed with President Obama when he says we ought to let science dictate our policy rather than ideology, but I do rail against the common assertion that the science is in, the debate is over, there should be no more discussion," he said.

Herbert made those comments despite a 2007 state report on global warming that said, "Based on extensive scientific research, there is very high confidence that human-generated increases in greenhouse gas concentrations are responsible for most of the global warming observed during the past 50 years."

Herbert is concerned global warming is being used as a means to justify proposed cap-and-trade legislation, which he says would increase energy prices and lead businesses to flee to countries with fewer regulations.

In a recession, he says that's not what the state needs.

While wanting to grow business in Utah, he says he's not going to heed the requests of the state's $7 billion a year tourism industry to continue normalizing the state's notoriously strict and complex liquor laws.

Earlier this year, at Huntsman's urging, the state eliminated its 40-year old system of requiring patrons to fill out an application and pay a fee before entering a bar.

However, the state still requires bartenders in new restaurants to be hidden from view; bans the sale of flavored malt beverages in grocery stores; and places a cap on how much liquor can be in a cocktail.

"It's only prudent and wise that we say, 'Let's see how what we've got on the books now works.' And if four or five years down the road we find out that there's some areas that need tweaking or modifying or changing, fine, let's take a look at then," he said.

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(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Brock Vergakis Writer

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