Gov. Gary Herbert weighed in on a range of election issues and candidates Thursday, including all four proposed ballot initiatives and candidates seeking the GOP nomination in federal races.
At his monthly KUED news conference Thursday, Herbert endorsed Mitt Romney for Senate and John Curtis in the race for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
“It’s been no secret I’ve encouraged Mitt Romney to run,” he said. “I thought he’d bring some unique cachet and experience to the Senate. He will not be your typical freshman senator.”
Romney split the delegate vote with state Rep. Mike Kennedy at the Utah GOP’s nominating convention on Saturday, forcing the two candidates to compete in a June 26 primary.
“It’s going to be an interesting race,” Herbert said, adding that he respects Kennedy’s candidacy. “He’s a bright guy. He’s certainly a principled legislator and brings his own talent and expertise to the table.”
Herbert said he felt “déjà vu all over again” in the primary race for Utah’s 3rd district. The primary is a repeat of last year, when then-Provo Mayor John Curtis faced former state Rep. Chris Herrod in the special election primary to replace outgoing Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
The two will meet in another primary less than a year later. Gov. Herbert said he is supporting Curtis, whom he described as a “rational, common-sense republican” who is “conservative, right-of-center.”
“I think people recognize he’s already in the saddle,” Herbert said. “He has some momentum, he’s doing good things.”
Herbert also discussed his positions on four proposed ballot initiatives that may appear before voters this November, saying he opposes two, supports another, and is “OK with” a fourth.
The governor said he believes legislative action on medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion this year are better solutions than the ballot proposals.
“I’m not against medical marijuana,” Herbert said. “I’m against the initiative, which I think has got too many loopholes and leaves a lot of things uncertain.”
Herbert stated in March that he would “actively oppose” the initiative. On Thursday, he repeated concerns that if approved by voters, it could potentially lead to recreational marijuana use further down the road. Herbert also said he opposed language in the initiative that would allow some people to grow their own pot.
The governor also said he opposes an initiative effort to fully expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in favor of a smaller Medicaid expansion bill passed by Utah lawmakers earlier this year.
“If we get the waivers, we’ll have everybody up to 100 percent of the poverty level covered,” Herbert said. The bill also included a work requirement for those covered by Medicaid.
“That’s the intent: To allow us to maximize our investment, our taxpayer’s dollars, to get the best return,” Herbert said.
The governor said he supports the Count My Vote initiative, which is seeking to strengthen Utah’s dual-path nominating system and lower signature thresholds for candidates.
“I think what this initiative does is actually makes the current statues better,” Herbert said. The governor lamented that had he known Utah Republicans would still be fighting over the law today he might not have signed it in 2014.
“I didn’t realize the division it was going to create,” he said.
Herbert said he is “OK with” the Better Boundaries initiative for an independent redistricting commission.
“It’s not going to be, I think, exactly the silver bullet that everybody thinks it’s going to be. But I have no opposition to having independent redistricting,” he said.
Another ballot question before voter this fall will ask whether the Utah legislature should be able to call itself into special session, a power now reserved for the governor. Herbert said he opposes the question.
“I think we have a system that works very well now because it says we have a deadline,” he said.
Herbert worried that if given the power to reconvene themselves, lawmakers might abuse it.
“I don’t think that’s healthy,” he said. “I don’t think that’s good for the legislature because they’re always going to be on call.”