Herbert defends Conklin nomination; worries about security

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 2:13 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert continued to defend his nomination of Catherine S. Conklin during a Thursday press conference, saying she would have been an asset to the bench, if her nomination had been approved by the State Senate last week.

In a 25-minute press conference for public television, Herbert deflected any questions about whether Conklin had been properly vetted before he submitted her name to fill a vacancy on the Second District Court and said any questions about the non-vote on her nomination should be answered by members of the Senate. Herbert nominated Conklin to replace the retiring 2nd District Judge Michael Lyon. Lyon officially retired Sept. 1, but has been regularly sitting in with other judges to cover his case load in the interim.

The Senate chose not to act last week on the Conklin nomination, but did ratify the appointment of four other judges during the one-day special session. The non-vote came after Republicans in the Senate held a closed-door caucus. Few details about why senators chose not to vote on the matter have been forthcoming.

“She was well qualified and her resume was excellent,” Herbert said of his nominee.

The governor also answered questions about security at the Capitol, growing criticism of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, for his role in the recent government shutdown and also addressed questions of whether the state would be reimbursed by the federal government for fronting money to keep national parks in Utah open during the shutdown.

Herbert said an incident Tuesday on the Hill where a Layton man was able to drive his truck up the steps of the Capitol before being apprehended by police on the third floor raised concerns about security. He said officials have been re-evaluating existing security measures at the Capitol.

The governor also refused to publicly single out Sen. Lee for criticism of his role in the recent shutdown in Washington, D.C. saying everyone shares some blame for what happened.

“As a Republican there is plenty of blame to go around for everybody. Democrats should take some blame too,” Herbert said.

He said President Barrack Obama should shoulder some blame too for his failure to lead on the health care initiative.

There has been growing criticism of Lee’s move to try and defund the Affordable Care Act, while keeping the rest of government open. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has also said he would not endorse Lee for re-election at the moment.

Herbert said Lee has not asked for his endorsement and he said he would not try to advise the Utah lawmaker on what he should do anymore than Lee should tell him how to do his job.

“Hindsight will tell us whether it was a good decision or not,” the governor said of Lee’s involvement on the shutdown issue.

During the shutdown, Herbert took action to keep national parks in Utah open, fronting the federal government almost $1.7 million after reaching an agreement with Interior Secretary Sally Jewel. He said Jewel promised the state would get its money back, but he found out Jewel was not in a position to make that financial commitment. He expressed assurance the state will be reimbursed.

“I’m pretty confident we will get our money back. It was certainly worth it,” Herbert said of the state move.

As he was leaving the event, Herbert also weighed in briefly on a move to abolish the caucus system in Utah, by a group known as Count My Vote. He said the caucus system works well in the Beehive State, when people show up and are involved.

“There’s no perfect system out there,” the governor said.

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