Originally published in Utah Business.
The Utah Legislature—with all of its individuality and nuance—can now boast the nation’s second fastest-growing economy. That’s right. Utah leads every state but North Dakota in the rate of job growth, and the Utah economy gets stronger by the day. Years of economic leadership are paying off and Utah families are the winners. It’s time to take a pause and thank Utah legislators for their service.
Right now the Legislature is in full swing. Otherwise a part-time body, during the 45-day general session they work long hours, participating in hearings and policy discussions that would make anybody’s head spin. I’m certain they enjoy lawmaking, but legislative sessions are an intense, grueling roller coaster ride that demand energy, endurance and patience.
I’m intrigued by the 2013 Legislature for a variety of reasons. For one, they may just be the most educated crop of legislators to ever serve the Beehive State. More than half of the House members possess graduate degrees. A similar dynamic exists in the Senate, where 14 of the 29 members have master’s degrees, J.D.s, M.D.s or Ph.D.s. Education appears to be a guiding virtue in the lives of many of them.
This is a good thing. Take for instance my newly elected senator, Brian Shiozawa. He received his undergraduate degree at Stanford and medical degree at the University of Washington. In his day job, he works as an emergency room doc at St. Mark’s hospital. He is the past president of the Utah Medical Association and board certified in two medical specialties. I don’t know Mr. Shiozawa well, but I have complete confidence in his ability to effectively make and evaluate laws and focus on the betterment of our state.
The House also has its share of well-educated lawmakers. Speaker Rebecca Lockhart sets the standard as a well-trained nurse. She’s not alone in the health profession; Rep. Stewart Barlow is a physician and surgeon who specializes in ear, nose, throat, head and neck surgery.
The House is also home to the double-graduate-degree club. Rep. Kraig Powell holds a law degree and Ph.D. and Rep. Michael Kennedy possesses a law degree and medical degree.
In total, the Legislature has, by my count, 56 lawmakers with advanced degrees and four out of five with a college degree or higher. With these kinds of educational credentials it should be a fait accompli for the Legislature to endorse the Prosperity 2020 goal of having 66 percent of Utahns with a post-secondary degree by 2020. After all, they meet that standard. Now we need others to reap the same benefits.
I’m also intrigued, or maybe a better word is enthused, by the apparent early focus on problem solving rather than rabble rousing. Speaker Lockhart set the stage with her remarks to the full House in the first week of the session. She said, “I challenge you to become problem solvers.” She also implored her colleagues to use restraint. She made a direct ask for less legislation and more vetoes. It’s as if Speaker Lockhart challenged the body she leads to focus on substance, not the peripheral issues that tend to waste precious legislative time.
For people like me who tire from message bills regarding public lands, immigration, liquor, state symbols, guns and other topics that often send legislators on unproductive bunny trails, Speaker’s Lockhart’s counsel rings true.
I’m proud of our legislators. They serve us honorably and well. Their economic leadership, along with Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s, is without peer in the country right now. We should thank them for that. And as we do so, let’s encourage them to keep the Utah economy strong by investing in education and discourage them from focusing on message bills that detract from more important issues facing our state.