Governor's mistakes provide campaign opening for Corroon

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Machine Gun wildfire comes right on the heels of a serious political firestorm: the controversy over a $13 million settlement paid to a losing bidder of the I-15 CORE project. Both were the subject of meetings in the governor's office Tuesday.

Twice in the last two weeks Gov. Gary Herbert has been blindsided, admitting he did not have all the information about important state decisions.

Monday morning on KSL's "The Doug Wright Show," Herbert talked about what he believed happened to cause the roaring blaze threatening neighborhoods in Herriman.

The trouble was the fire had been caused by the Utah National Guard on a day when the National Weather Service had issued strong wind warnings -- something the head of the guard didn't acknowledge until hours after the governor first spoke.

Monday afternoon, the commander of the Utah National Guard admitted guardsmen hadn't checked weather conditions and didn't see there was a National Weather Service warning until after the machine gun training sparked the blaze.

"We shot in the face of a red flag warning, which is something we do not do. We had a communication error. My military people were unaware of it. We should have been aware of it," Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet said.

All of that came a week after a press conference where the governor admitted he was never told by Utah Department of Transportation leaders about a $13 million payout to a losing I-15 CORE bidder. The project was already the subject of questions regarding his campaign donations and meetings.

"I didn't even know who won the I-15 contract. It was out of my purview. It's not something I'm even following," Herbert said during a press conference Sept. 13.

Political observers say one danger for the governor is these situations could make him appear to be out of touch.

"First reports are always wrong; and what happened was he responded to questions without having been fully briefed, or without the briefers having the opportunity to fully examine the situation. It was a mistake. He looks out of touch," says Bob Seltzer, longtime political observer and administrator at Westminster College.

Seltzer served for two decades as a staffer to several U.S. Senate Democrats. He says the governor has an opportunity to demonstrate he's in command, but these incidents provide an opening for Herbert's campaign opponent Democrat Peter Corroon.

"They create an opportunity; but this is Utah, and how much of an opportunity is not clear yet," Seltzer said.

Meanwhile, the first campaign debate between the two happens Thursday.


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