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Utah lieutenant guv addresses state economics, higher education, politics, immigration

October 10th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photo by Mark Vuong

Utah is doing well economically in “relative terms,” says Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, pointing out that unemployment is 3 percent lower in Utah than the national average, the state has created nearly 20,000 jobs in the past year, and high-tech companies want to settle around state universities.

“Utah is renowned for its quality of labor,” Bell told a scarecrow audience in the TSC auditorium. “It’s highly educated, tech savvy. Pretty vibrant, intelligent people, particularly our young people.”

The lieutenant governor recalled a conversation with a large bank executive who had been transferred to Utah. Asked how he liked the Utah experience, the executive said he loved it, because the workers showed up for work, which wasn’t always the case in his previous work location.

Bell said students planning to take root in Utah will have more opportunities for a good life and job than previous generations. When he graduated from college, Bell said it was difficult to find a college-level job in the state, forcing many young people to leave Utah in pursuit of careers.

Education as a road to success, Bell said, attributing his education at Weber State University as the platform from which he built a “wonderful life.” He is grateful to the taxpayers of Utah for aiding with his education, and hopes current students are using their time in school wisely and will graduate on time to make room for new university students.

“We need your chair,” Bell said. “We need you to graduate as soon as you possibly can because it’s expensive [in] the fifth, sixth, seventh year for students to occupy a place when other people could be here. So we really need people to hustle through a little.”

Education attainment of the baby boomer generation was higher than the current generation’s, he said, which distresses him. A lot of young people attend college but drop out, he said.

As the nation enters the Fall election season, the lieutenant governor called today’s political season an “interesting time,” with the rise of the Tea Party, which is frustrated with traditional Republicans, and discontent about the federal government from both sides of the political spectrum—even from people who initially backed President Barack Obama.

One example he brought up was the case of federal veterans affairs officer Velma Hart, who told Obama during a televised Sept. 20 townhall that she was “exhausted defending [the president], the administration, defending the mantle of change” she voted for, and was “deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”

“Whether it’s on the left or the right, things are on wheels,” Bell said. “While the feelings run so deeply, the message is different. The left wants to do ABC and the right wants to do XYZ. I don’t really remember a time when there was such division.”

Normally, incumbents hold huge advantages when running for re-election. But in this election season, Bell said, that isn’t the case, citing an article which said the worst asset an incumbent can have is a yes vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which bailed out banks.

Bell said analysts also say the best candidates this year are nonincumbent Republicans.

“So, seems like the sweet spot is for newbies who are right of center and maybe even a little Tea Party-ish,” he said.

That is somewhat different in Utah, Bell said, predicting an easy win for incumbent Utah Gov. Gary Herbert over his democratic opponent, Peter Corroon, former mayor of Salt Lake County.

A New York Times study, Bell said, “found that, across the board, in any scenario, that Corroon has a 1 percent chance of winning. And so that’ll be interesting to see.”

In response to an audience question about a possible immigrant law in Utah, Bell said seven immigration bills have been filed and will be debated between now and the next legislative session. The Constitution gives the task of nationalization and immigration affairs to the federal government, but Bell said the federal government hasn’t “dealt appropriately” with those issues. The reason, Bell said, is that neither party wants to offend the hispanic community.

He and Herbert have visited Arizona, and spoke with state Sen. Russell Pearce, author of a controversial new Arizona immigration law. Bell said that, during his trip, he saw a great divide about the immigration law, which became law in April.

Critics have said the law turns Arizona in the “police state” that targets hispanics in pursuit of illegal immigrants, while supporters of the law say it “protects” the state from an “invasion” of undocumented aliens.

“It has been, in my view, one of the most polarizing issues that I can even imagine,” Bell said. “It’s really sad.”

Latino advocates strongly feel that the law is a “mean-spirited, racially-motivated bill,” Bell said. Meanwhile, he said, Arizona businessmen say the bill has killed the state economy because of boycotts, cancellations of conventions, among other things.

USU political science major Terry Camp, president of USU’s College Republicans, said the immigration discussion was one of the most interesting parts of Bell’s speech. He said he found it interesting that the lieutenant governor pointed out that with the bill comes economical and human rights issues.

“I thought he handled them [critics] in a really civil way,” Camp said.

Anna Harris, an international studies major and president of the College Democrats, also thought the immigration issue was intriguing, though she said she didn’t necessarily agree with Bell on the issue of states individually setting their own immigration laws. The federal government needs to address the issue, she said.

“Having 50 different immigration policies just seems kind of ineffective,” Harris said.

Overall, she thought Bell concentrated too much on national issues that are easily ridiculed by Republicans and highly unpopular. However, she found his many mentions of the two political parties in favorable and unfavorable light to be a “breath of fresh air.”


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