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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Mike Leavitt bade Utah goodbye Monday night as he prepared to step down from the state's highest office to become the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator.
In his 25-minute address in the Capitol's ceremonial Gold Room, Leavitt touched on his accomplishments during his nearly three terms in office as well as his hopes and expectations for the state. He also lauded his successor, Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, who will be sworn in Wednesday as the state's first female governor.
Using three keys as a prop, Leavitt said that when Walker assumed office she would find in her new desk keys symbolizing a quality workforce, the promise of changing demographics and a legacy of balancing the needs of the landscape with those of the economy.
"Balance is not about splitting the difference," Leavitt said. Rather, the best ideas must put forth to find the best answers. "Balance is the solution," he said, "and it is my belief that it's in this generation's grasp."
The 100 people who filled the Gold Room -- Leavitt's family, friends, staffers, lawmakers and state agency representatives -- broke into applause 11 times during the speech.
Leavitt noted that since 1992, when he first took office as Utah's 14th governor, public education has improved, the transportation infrastructure has expanded dramatically and many government services have become more convenient as they have become available on the Internet.
"Ours is a young state," Leavitt said. "I have been governor for approximately 10 percent of the state's history. ... We've seen boom times together, we've seen lean times, and ushered in the information age."
"Thank you just does not suffice," he said. "but I'm at a loss for what does. But I believe the human soul has capacity to feel things that cannot be adequately expressed in words. It is my aspiration that, by that power, you can know the depth of gratitude I feel."
An additional 200 guests watched Leavitt's address on big-screen televisions set up in the Capitol rotunda, where a chamber music troupe played during a buffet reception. Immediately after the speech, Leavitt retreated to his office, where he exchanged hugs with staffers and well-wishers.
"As usual, he did a great job," said Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville. "He spoke of Utah as the great state it is, he (gave) us his blessing."
He also issued a political challenge "not to be at either extreme," Waddoups said.
Leavitt will make another round of farewells Tuesday at state agencies, and will treat his cabinet to lunch at a Mexican restaurant.
On Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., he will officially relinquish the office. Moments later, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham will swear in Gov. Olene Walker and Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie.
Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake City, said that beyond Leavitt's "obviously positive" speech, he reminded the public that women will head both the executive and judicial branches of government. "Here we have our first chief justice who is a woman swearing in our first woman governor," Hale said. "There are exciting things ahead for Utah."
Leavitt will be the first Utah governor to leave office before the end of a term. He will go to Washington on Thursday to take the oath of his new office. He will be inaugurated at a time of President Bush's choosing.
Leavitt will be commuting between Salt Lake City and Washington until the end of the school year, when his family will join him in the capital.
During his 11 years as governor, Leavitt pushed states' rights, welfare reform and Internet education. He won re-election in 1996 and 2000 and refused to rule out an unprecedented fourth term even as his EPA nomination was before the Senate, which, to show displeasure with Bush environmental policies, took an unprecedented 55 days to confirm him.
Leavitt backed medical reform in Utah with his 1994 Healthprint program, and in 1995 presided over the Growth Summit that resulted in a 10-year, $2.6 billion highway program. During the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, he became familiar to the world. He chaired the Western Governors Association, the Republican Governors Association, the Council of State Governments and was in line to head the National Governors Association.
Leavitt for some time has been considered national office potential. He was talked up as a possible running mate for former Sen. Bob Dole in his bid to unseat President Bill Clinton and served as an adviser to the White House on homeland security.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)