OGDEN — One current and three former Utah governors showed up Wednesday — either in person or electronically — to kick off Weber State’s new Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service, and to answer questions from students and faculty.
Walker, Utah governor from November 2003 to January 2005, was there in person. The Ogden native and Weber State graduate founded the institute in hopes students will be inspired to seek leadership positions in Utah and across the nation.
“Creating the Walker Institute at Weber State University combines two passions of mine: education and politics,” Walker said.
Also present were Gov. Gary R. Herbert, in office since 2009, and Norm H. Bangerter, who served from January 1985 to January 1993. Appearing electronically via Skype was Michael O. Leavitt, governor from January 1993 to November 2003.
“We are so proud that the first woman governor in the state of Utah was a woman who grew up in our community, attended Weber State and helped build the rock wall you see out front,” said WSU President F. Ann Millner.
“She has had a life commitment to the belief that political development and public service are interwoven.”
Leavitt praised Walker, his former lieutenant governor, saying part of her legacy would be helping shape the leaders of the future.
Questions posed by audience members included what each governor expected to be remembered for, how to improve the quality of education, and reactions to the Affordable Care Act, which reforms health care.
“Someone who worries about how he will be remembered should be forgotten quickly,” said Bangerter, drawing laughs from his Wildcat Theater audience.
Bangerter recalled passing a tax increase and watching his public approval rating plummet from 75 percent to 41 percent.
Leavitt said he was fortunate to serve during a robust period for the state of Utah, in a period that included growth in technology and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Utah’s reputation improved in the nation and the world, he said. The expansion of Interstate 15 also was under his administration, he said.
Walker, who served a 14-month term after Leavitt left office to become administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said she worried people might question her fitness for the job.
“I felt a heavy burden on my shoulders to prove a woman could get things done,” she said.
Walker worked to champion the poor, focusing on literacy programs and affordable housing and child care. She worked with higher education to develop what would become USTAR, she said.
“It was a very busy, very active time,” Walker said. “I was honored to be the governor.”
The Utah Science Technology and Research initiative helps Utah universities recruit researchers, build development facilities and form science, innovation and commercialization teams across the state with the goal of creating jobs.
Herbert said he has worked to help the private sector grow, increasing jobs, and that education is a significant factor in improving Utah’s economy.
He also challenged Utah schools and individuals to meet the goal of 66 percent of the adult population holding post-secondary degrees by 2020, an initiative that is key to Utah’s economic future, he said.
Asked about federal involvement in public education, all governors, past and present, supported an increase of state-level control.
“No Child Left Behind is a wonderful slogan but a stupid program,” Bangerter said. “There’s no need to make it law when every teacher knows no child should be left behind.”
Bangerter supported the level of parental support enjoyed by charter schools and said he would like to see the same level of public “ownership” demonstrated by people whose children attend public schools.
Leavitt said the effects of the Affordable Care Act were “like making everyone wear a size 42 suit or a size 12 dress. The same things don’t fit everybody.”
Herbert said Utah doesn’t need the act.
“Utah is doing it right,” he said. “We have the lowest-cost health care and (rank) the fifth or sixth in quality.”
Herbert said the act does not address high health care costs, just who should pay for them.
If Mitt Romney wins the presidential election, Herbert said, the Republican plan is to “repeal and replace” the act.
After the panel discussion, Walker said she hopes to visit the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service as it grows and expands.
She currently lives in St. George and has pulmonary fibrosis, a thickening of the lungs, which somewhat limits her travel.
Millner said she is happy WSU has the new institute.
“This is a landmark moment for Weber State. Long after we are gone, Weber State will have this institute for students and the community to develop leadership skills.”