Rep. Kurt E. Oscarson died Jan. 14, 1997, in a local hospital from complications from leukemia, a disease he had been fighting for a decade.
Oscarson, 48, was the Democratic representative to the Utah House from District 48 in Sandy. He was re-elected in November and soon after that victory was elected minority whip by his House Democratic colleagues.Legislative colleagues told the Deseret News that Oscarson had battled leukemia since 1987, a year after first being elected to the 75-member House. The disease returned last summer and struck him so hard he had to cut back on his campaigning during his re-election effort, several colleagues said. Still, Oscarson won re-election. A week after the election, Oscarson attended the House Democratic caucus and, wearing a protective mask to shield him from germs, asked colleagues to elect him to leadership. They did.
That Class of '86 saw 13 Democratic freshman, a large gain for the minority party, and the class went on to make their mark through a number of initiatives.
Oscarson was born in Richfield and graduated from Piute High School. He held undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from Brigham Young University. He was a lifelong teacher and served as president of the Jordan Education Association in 1980-81. At the time of his illness he taught the fourth grade at Canyon View Elementary School.
In his decade in the House, Oscarson sponsored a number of bills that became law. He was a constant advocate for education. In a 1996 analysis by the Deseret News of the Legislature, Oscarson was mentioned by a number of colleagues, lobbyists and legislative staff members as an effective legislator.
"Kurt Oscarson will be deeply missed by his colleagues in Utah State government," said Gov. Mike Leavitt on Tuesday. "Being a legislator is very hard work and he went about it with great dedication and tenacity. He always had the best interests of the state at heart. Our hearts go out to his family at this difficult time."
"He (was) one of the young Turks of Class of '86, a great human being and Democrat's Democrat," said former House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, who entered the House with Oscarson and retired last year.
"Education had no better friend than Kurt," said Pignanelli. "He was Sandy city's best friend. What's interesting, too, is that House Democrats passed almost the same percentage of their bills as House Republicans did, and I credit Kurt's work on the Rules Committee for seeing that our bills got a fair hearing" before the majority party.
Pignanelli said Oscarson was diagnosed with leukemia after his first legislative session. "He's fought this all the way. What great courage he showed all of us. Every two years the Republicans threw everything they had at him - he was from a Republican district - trying to defeat him. He walked his district early this summer, but had a bone marrow transplant in early September and had to finish the campaign from his bed. Still, he won again" this time with 53 percent of the vote. "I'm heartbroken. He was a great friend and colleague. A great irony, I suppose, is that his only child, Travis, got his (LDS) mission call today," said Pignanelli. Oscarson also leaves his wife, Laura.
As law provides, the Salt Lake County Democratic Party Central Committee will accept applications to fill Oscarson's two-year term. The committee will send three names to Leavitt who will appoint a Democrat to fill the District 48 seat.
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