Over 100 people packed the Governor’s Mansion on Aug. 24 as Gov. Gary Herbert and his wife Jeanette hosted the Utah Log Cabin Republicans at an annual reception that started three years ago by then-Governor Jon M. Huntsman. While Huntsman seemed more at ease in a room full of gay, lesbian, transgender guests and their allies, the Herberts were gracious hosts, though the speeches were more generic than some guests had hoped.
“The governor does not necessarily tailor his speeches for particular groups,” said the governor’s Communications Director Angie Welling. “In fact, I can probably give his campaign stump speeches myself.”
But to many attendees, the fact that they were sitting in the mansion in the presence of the governor and other elected officials was victory enough.
“Here we are in Utah, of all places, being invited to the governor’s mansion,” marveled attendee Jim Dabakis before the gathering. “You don’t see this in Texas or many other Republican states.”
Herbert welcomed the crowd, promising a more social than political tone to the event.
“We’re not here to speechify,” he said. “We are happy to have you here and certainly want you to feel at home.”
First lady Jeanette Herbert repeated a joke from last year, saying that the mansion is “not bad for public housing.”
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell probably came closest to actually addressing the crowd of gay and gay-friendly people.
“Some of the greatest rewards of being in this position is meeting and working with people of all persuasions,” Bell said.
“My son, who has a razor-sharp wit, told me the other day, ‘I finally concluded that every single person just wants their life to be taken seriously,’” Bell said. “The sooner we realize that, and understand that, the better off we all will be.”
Newly-appointed Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper attended the event and addressed the crowd, saying he heard a speech earlier that day by Florida governor Jeb Bush, under whom he served as deputy director from 1999 to 2001. Bush was in Salt Lake City addressing educational reform and the Utah Governor’s Excellence in Education Commission.
Cooper spoke in veterans terms of state Republican parties acknowledging “deltas” (differences) while working on “common denominators.”
“Where do we find agreement and where do we work from there,” he asked. “Within our party, there are some deltas, but we have commonalities.”
“Log Cabin Republicans believe in limited government, strong national defense, free markets, low taxes, personal responsibility and individual liberty,” Cooper said.
Gov. Herbert recognized gay allies Gary and Millie Watts, saying they “go back further than we want to talk about.”
“They are prominent and good people,” he said.
He also recognized Dabakis, saying he was a “groupie” of his when he was an on-air personality at KTALK Radio.
“You’re all a very important part of the fabric of Utah,” Herbert continued. “There will be things we agree on and some things in which we will disagree.”
He lauded Utah Log Cabin Republicans and Utah Chapter president Melvin Nimer, saying, “Melvin and the Log Cabin Republicans are up on [Utah’s] Capitol Hill. We will talk about political issues and we will find common ground.”
Dabakis addressed the crowd saying, “These (Nimer and Herbert) are Republicans, but they are pretty cool.”
Dabakis told a story of bringing a group of young gays and lesbians to the mansion shortly after Matthew Shepard was killed in Laramie, Wyo., when Mike Leavitt was governor. The group was allotted 20 minutes with the governor, but Leavitt waived away his staff’s attempts to move him to his next appointment for the next hour and a half.
“Mike Leavitt sat and listened to stories of his own children. That was something he could relate to,” Dabakis said. “The more we get away from the vicious political rhetoric, the more human we are, and the more we find out that we are more worried about whether or not our swamp coolers work than anything else.”
Dabakis extolled the governor as one who would look more at issues of fairness than demagoguery.
Several candidates and elected officials were in the crowd as well. Congressional candidate Morgan Philpot addressed the crowd, calling for “respect for individual liberty and state sovereignty.”
Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall and West Valley Mayor Mike Winder were also in the crowd. Both were instrumental in passing “Common Ground” non-discrimination ordinances in their cities in the past several months.
The governor, however, is not in favor of a statewide law protecting people from discrimination in the workplace or in housing based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“[B]ottom line is that that law isn’t good for anyone,” blogger Eric Ethington reported the governor said to him. “Business owners need to have more control over their businesses. Say you have a man who comes to work every day and acts normal, then one day he decides to come in and act all effeminate. Well, with this law you don’t have the power to do anything even if he’s scaring away your customers.”
Ethington asked about a similar circumstance regarding a religious zealot.
“Yes but that’s in the constitution, this is a new right they’re wanting to put in,” Ethington said was the governor’s response.
Ethington then asked if he would veto a bill worded exactly like Salt Lake City’s ordinance.
“You know, I would hope that people would just do the right thing on their own and not discriminate,” Herbert told him. “I don’t think that a statewide law is necessary, if local municipalities and cities want to pass their own that’s fine but we don’t need that in Utah.”