by Howard Stephenson
These are truly historic times as Utah’s Governor resigns to accept the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency in President George W. Bush’s administration and the State of Utah installs its first female governor, Olene Walker.
Utahns are deservedly proud of Governor Leavitt for beieng selected to make a difference at the EPA. We should all be pleased that the Governor’s office is left in the hands of one of the smartest, most capable individuals in the state. While Walker isn’t expected to be a big change from Leavitt’s moderate Republicanism, she is expected to make her own unmistakable mark on the state.
Olene Walker has stayed under the radar screen of the media and the public, always deferring to Leavitt — at least in public. But now, many will be surprised to find that Walker is no lame-duck, caretaker governor. I predict she will be very aggressive in pushing her own agenda. A lifelong educator, many are fearful that her agenda may include higher taxes for education and even stronger opposition to parental choice in education than Leavitt showed.
Based on my experience of Olene Walker, Utah will discover that this woman is a great communicator. During her eleven years as Lt. Governor, she has given some of the most compelling speeches I’ve heard from any state official, usually without notes, and unfortunately, without much media coverage. Now, finally the media will report what she says and many will say they didn’t know she was so talented. Her talents are nothing new, but few noticed because they assumed lieutenants aren’t that important.
Walker was right when, during the announcement that former State Representative Gayle McKeachnie would be her Lt. Governor, she said he was overqualified for the job. McKeachnie was no slouch as a legislator or as chair of the Utah Constitutional Revision Commission and he is expected to be an extremely effective Lt. Governor. Although he too, is a moderate Republican, McKeachnie is a great choice because of his winning ways in consensus-building and his respect for others’ viewpoints.
I expect Governor Walker to put her own mark on the state budget, public and higher education, social services, and transportation. We may see some novel approaches to stubborn problems which have plagued the state recently, Problems such as Legacy Highway, education reform, equity in education funding, economic development, and taxes.
If you really want to get an idea of what Olene Walker’s administration will look like during the next 14 months, go to her new web site at www.utah.gov when it is unveiled on Thursday, November 6.