Speaker’s Opening Remarks 2013

This morning, Speaker Rebecca Lockhart addressed the House of Representatives. Here are her remarks:

I’m breaking with tradition a little by standing here in front of you this morning. But in that big chair and behind that huge desk there’s a lot of separation and frankly, it’s a bit awkward when giving a speech. Today I want to speak to you as your colleague and fellow legislator in addition to being the Speaker of the House. I’m grateful for your confidence in me as your leader, and I hope in that spirit I can share some blunt words.

There are always many people to be thanked at times such as these. I’d specifically like to thank my husband and children, who have supported me through the years, in the good times and also in the more challenging times. And also a big thank you to my parents who taught me to value family, faith, and the Constitution. A special thank you also to those in the huge majority and those in the vocal minority. To those in the gallery and those outside our doors, lobbyists and activists, protestors and the media. This can be a frustrating process. It’s an imperfect process. But to all those who participate, thank you for your time, your energy, your help, and yes, I suppose your occasional opposition. You are making Utah a better place for all of us.

There is one group of people I exclude from my gratitude. Today I exclude Congress. A group of 535 people who have made gridlock a profession. Normally, I’m in favor of gridlock in Washington. It means less mischief that we have to deal with on a state level. But after years of meddling with the economy and amassing trillions in debt, their actions are having a direct and immediate impact on Utah.

The Utah Legislature has spent decades making good decisions on behalf of our people. We’ve enacted good tax policies and created a business-friendly environment. Those actions are bearing fruit, as Utah’s job growth is double the national average. That’s allowed us to invest significant funds in our education system, our transportation infrastructure, and in public safety. We’ve also pursued sustainable and responsible development of our natural resources. But lately, it’s become increasingly apparent that the action or in-action of the Federal Government profoundly influences our success. It’s beginning to feel like it really no longer matters how carefully we manage our budget here in Utah. The so-called “fiscal cliff” crisis is just the latest example. One day we’re looking at promising revenue forecasts, the result of years of hard work and difficult decisions; and literally, the next day we’re staring at perhaps $100 million less in revenue because of a Washington D.C. deal. What have we lost with that $100 million? What could we fund with that revenue?

$100 million could provide a modest tax cut for the people of Utah.

$100 million could fund 1,600 new teachers per year.

$100 million could fund drug and alcohol rehabilitation for 28,000 prisoners.

$100 million could provide necessary services for the disabled who have been waiting patiently for years.

Who do we want managing our affairs in Utah? A federal government trillions of dollars in debt and unable to do something as basic as passing any budget – let alone a balanced budget? Or responsive state level representation that balances the budget and regularly answers to the public?

While I’m on the subject of the Federal Government, I’ll briefly mention the Affordable Care Act.

We are being tempted to enter into a partnership with the federal government with promises of flexibility. But we have learned through sad experience over many decades that the Federal Government is never truly interested in a partnership. They give lip service to partnerships and flexibility, but over and over we are denied the promised flexibility. And now Utah’s health insurance exchange, Avenue H, faces the threat of being moved away from a free market consumer-driven vehicle to a single-payer government-issue gateway.

Let me be absolutely clear on this: there is no negotiating with the federal government on this issue. There will be no such thing as a true state and federal partnership. The federal government’s definition of a partnership is one in which they command and we obey. Usually while they’re picking our pockets. Anyone who believes otherwise is in it for the money, or deliberately ignoring history.

Our decisions on behalf of the people of Utah must be based on facts and the historic record, not on wishful thinking.

And lest we get smug as we sit in these hallowed chambers, confident in our self-righteous anger, lest we sit back and point fingers and lay all the blame on others, we in this room are not free from sin. Yes, we have done a great degree of good for this state. But why is it that we find great fault with Congress while also greedily stumbling toward their siren song of cheap and easy money? A song that will lead us to a fiscal shipwreck. We claim and embrace the values of self-reliance, yet we are content with over 30% of our budget coming from Washington, D.C.

We must have and implement a plan to get the state of Utah less reliant on Federal revenues.

We know from experience, representatives, we KNOW that money alone does not solve problems. It can be a tool, but solving problems requires changing how we do things. If we need more technology in classrooms, we may need to move money away from ineffective programs. If the higher education certificates and degrees we fund aren’t cutting it in today’s job market, perhaps it means eliminating some while elevating others. I challenge you today to become problem solvers. Think outside the money box. States are supposed to be the incubators of innovation for this great country. Let’s find solutions that don’t further burden our taxpayers. Utah taxpayers are saddled with the 29th highest tax burden in the country. For a state that prides itself on low taxes and good management, that seems awfully high, don’t you think?

But it’s not only money management where we and Congress run into trouble. We emulate their draconian regulatory schemes. We far too often look for problems where none exist. Can someone here please tell me what definition of “health and public safety” hair braiding falls into? Do we really need to license more so-called professions so as to artificially limit commerce? The free market?

So to you, the members of the House of Representatives, I’m pleading with you to remember this one word for the next 45 days: restraint.

Restraint, representatives. Make sure to take a second and third look at that legislation you are proposing. Do we really need it? It’s been said that we each commit three federal felonies a day whether we know it or not because of the complexity of federal code. Do we as a Legislature really want to be in that kind of company? Creating so many regulations, complicating so many issues, that the average citizen can’t help but run afoul of the law?

Restraint, representatives. Read through the bills brought to you by outside influences. Ask tough questions, even if what you’re being asked to carry sounds innocuous. Especially then! If you hear anyone say, “This is really a very simple bill,” that should be your first warning.  A little restraint today, means a lot less trouble down the road.

I know there are some great ideas out there. There are critical issues we must address. But we’ve already got almost 1,000 bills being prepared this session. History says we’ll pass somewhere around 400 of them. And the governor doesn’t use the veto pen nearly as often as he should, which means we’ll add another 200 pages of code on top of the 200 pages we added last year. That’s on top of the thousands of pages added over the decades. Do we really want to keep doing that? Really? Really?

That was a rhetorical question.

What we should be doing is tackling the foundational issues that government is supposed to handle, and setting into motion legislation that will benefit our children and our children’s children.

While in Florence, Italy some years ago I had the opportunity of visiting the Duomo. If you have seen this cathedral you know it is absolutely beautiful! It is one of the most incredible  buildings I have ever seen. It took my breath away! Construction began in 1296 and it took 140 years to complete. The workers and artists who laid the foundation probably knew they would never see it to completion and never have the opportunity of worshipping inside. But they did it anyway. It could have been faith, it could have been loyalty, it could have been the need to make a living. But those who finally had the opportunity to worship there benefitted greatly because of the sacrifices and foresight of previous generations.  Like those who built the Duomo, we can lay a foundation for future generations. Let us look forward as best we can and enact those policies that will ensure our posterity has abundant opportunity to achieve their hopes and dreams.

Many of you have seen the artwork I have in my office. One piece is a picture pedigree of my family tree. I hang this in my office to remind me of my heritage. It reminds me to not bring shame upon the names of those who have gone before and sacrificed so much so that I could be here today. One part of my family is what you would all expect: European Latter Day Saint converts and pioneers. But another part is quite different: My Great Grandmother, Guadalupe Cilberia Trujillo, died a few years before I was born, but my Mother knew her well and has fond memories of spending many days with her Grandmother learning to make tortillas and attending Mass. She gained valuable and unique insights about life and religion from her grandma Lupe and passed them along to me. I tell you this, because we don’t always know where our colleagues come from. We make assumptions about each other that aren’t necessarily accurate. From the outside we look like a homogeneous like-minded group with common heritage. But each of us brings a unique history and valuable contributions from diverse experiences and families. You may not know your seatmate as well as you think you do. Get to know your colleagues and learn from their distinctive make-up.

However, knowing and respecting your colleagues shouldn’t prevent you from vigorously fighting for or against the issues important to your constituents.

You’re going to hear a lot about a lack of “civility” up here, and I can tell you right now that most of it is nonsense. When someone is calling for more civility, it’s usually a demand that their opposition sit down and keep quiet.  Well not here, not in this House! Speak your mind, but let me be absolutely clear: Disrespect will be dealt with swiftly, and we are a House of rules that will be followed.

But I expect Rep. Hughes to give the most heart-felt and aggressive defense of a bill, even while knowing that it is going down in flames. I expect Rep. Seelig to champion the minority with stinging rebukes to a majority who will pass a bill whatever she says. I expect and encourage those things because it’s in the heat of those debates that opinions are changed and friendships are forged. It’s where bills are refined, and laws made better.

In my 14 years in this House, this House that I love dearly, I have rarely, rarely seen instances that I would deem uncivil. Tense? Yes. Unfriendly?  Certainly. Frank? Absolutely. But rare is the time when opponents haven’t been able to come together and shake hands whatever the outcome.

There is no greater example of that than the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. What began as near hatred of each other became one of the most enduring stories of friendship in our history. There was a key factor in the forming of that friendship. It was when they started listening to each other that their differences were put aside and they were able to reason together.

I’m not saying that Rep. Hughes and Rep. Seelig will see eye to eye on ALL the issues. Or really any of the issues. But their friendship and banter is something I hold in high regard. It’s an example of what keeps us working together to solve problems. We need all of you to make this work. We need Rep. Ipson’s rags to riches life experience. We need Representative Cosgrove’s dedication to our veterans. We need Rep. Sanpei’s unshakeable level-headedness.

At the end of the day, at the end of 45 days, I hope that you can look back and say that you did your very best. There are almost 37,000 people in your respective districts depending on you to make the hard decisions. And whatever else may influence you up here, never forget that in the end, it’s your constituents who matter most.

To paraphrase the great Bill Cosby, “They brought you into this world. And they can take you out.”

Representatives, you came forward and asked your friends and neighbors to put their faith and trust in you. And they responded by voting for you to represent them. They put you in these seats to find solutions to the challenges we all face. Those challenges will stretch us to our limits. The burdens we bear will feel heavy on our shoulders. The decisions we make will be our legacy. The words of Thomas Paine are as true today as they were hundreds of years ago, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Be courageous, make the difficult decisions, and the people of Utah will thank you now and in the future.

Representatives, thank you for all that you are about to do. Now, let’s get to work!