I had a leisurely chat with Utah Gov. Gary “Available Jones” Herbert, and it didn’t even cost me a nickel.
It was June 28, primary election day in Utah.
Being a Tuesday, I was at my desk early in the morning frantically hammering on my keyboard trying to put the finishing touch on my stories for that day’s paper.
At the same time, my mind was pondering how late I would be at work that night, waiting for primary election results to come in.
My deep thoughts were interrupted by my ringing cell phone.
As I looked down at the screen, I noticed the caller ID warning me it was Tooele County Commissioner Myron Bateman.
I answered it promptly, hoping the commissioner would have a big story for me. I needed something, other than the election; things were quiet in Tooele town.
Commissioner Bateman didn’t let me down.
From Bateman I learned that Gov. Herbert was going to eat lunch at Vista Linda in Tooele City that day.
Not only was I invited to lunch, but Herbert was going to give me a short interview after lunch, Bateman told me.
I’ve had a lot of “short” interviews with politicians, including governors and U.S. Senators, over the last nine years. They usually involve a few minutes standing in a room full of other people.
Herbert and I have a history.
I can find 14 stories I’ve written about him visiting Tooele County since 2009 when he came as Lt. Governor to talk to the Tooele County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner at the Utah Firefighter’s Museum and Memorial.
After I wrote about being kept out of an alleged secret meeting during the 2010 Tooele County Republican Party Convention by Herbert’s armed bodyguards, I’ve had the feeling he didn’t like me.
Anyway, after talking to Commissioner Bateman, I put the phone down and finished my stories in time to run — well, walk briskly — over to Vista Linda.
I took one of the few remaining seats at the table reserved for the governor’s group. One of Herbert’s campaign staff came over and rearranged seats so the governor would be sitting next to me.
This would be the second time I have had lunch with a governor. The first time was in 1976 with Washington State Gov. Daniel J. Evans.
As the president of Tumwater Area Council’s Explorer President’s Association, I was selected to represent our Boy Scout Council in the annual Report to the Governor.
Evans was in his second to last year of his third term as governor.
At the time, I was a student at Evergreen State College, a place dear to Evans’ heart because he signed the legislation that created the college in 1967.
While eating lunch, Evans casually asked me what I thought of Evergreen and if I would make any changes to the school.
Evergreen was, and still may be, a school full of counter culture 60s and 70s-era hippies.
The first year the school was open the chairs in some of the seminar rooms — they didn’t have classrooms or classes — remained stacked in the corner of the room while the students sat on the floor.
Whether to use establishment’s chairs was a topic of lengthy discussion on the first day of school, according to one of my professors.
Something as traditional as a football team or basketball team was out of the question for Evergeen. I suggested to Evans that Evergreen should start an interscholastic soccer team.
It was the popular non-traditional sport at the time. It was also popular among youth on Olympia’s west side, which is the home of Evergreen.
Soccer could be a way of bridging the gap between the college and the community, which didn’t exactly love the long-haired student body or the school’s new fangled way of interdisciplinary learning.
My second suggestion was that the college should add a teacher education program.
I left Evergreen after my first year there, because I wanted to be a teacher. And in 1977, after Evans left the governor’s office, he became the president of Evergreen.
During his tenure as president, Evergreen added a soccer team and a teacher education program.
With my 100 percent record of governorly advice to protect, I was worried that Herbert might ask me something, and I had nothing to offer.
I made it through lunch. I purposefully avoided much conversation with the governor, because I knew I had some personal time coming up with him. I wanted the other people at the table to get a chance to talk with Herbert.
After lunch, we went outside. He volunteered to have his picture taken with people in front of the pioneer museum.
When the photo sessions were over and everybody left, he turned to me and said, “Where should we go so we can talk?”
I pointed to a bench outside the Old Time Barber Shop.
We sat down and talked.
I told him that by the time people read my story the election will be over and votes will already be counted. You can look up the June 30 issue of the Transcript Bulletin and see what we talked about.
Most of my questions were centered on state issues that affect Tooele County.
A couple times I looked up and didn’t see anybody in a suit and tie that looked like they were packing a gun under their suit. I was safe this time.
No communications person or handler stayed around to make sure he gave the right answers.
It was just the governor and me, hanging out on Vine Street. After 20 minutes, which was 10 minutes longer than I expected to have with the governor, I ended the interview.
I walked with him back over by the Tooele Pioneer Museum and turned him over to his staff. As I headed back to the newsroom, I thought of a few questions I forgot to ask.
I’ve heard that after a long week of governing Herbert occasionally sneaks out to Tooele County to ride an ATV on our fabulous trail system. I wonder what is his favorite trail or place in Tooele County.
Herbert doesn’t strike me as the racecar driving type, but do you think he ever raced Larry Miller around the track at Miller Motorsports Park?
I wish I had made some of my questions a little more personal.
Oh, well, if he gets re-elected, maybe he’ll come back.