Eagle eye: Moral crusader Ruzicka wields 'phone tree'

Published: Sunday, Nov. 7 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

The Eagle Forum's Gayle Ruzicka, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, and supporters of Amendment 3 gather for a rally at the state Capitol in August.

Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

HIGHLAND — There must be some mistake. The woman who answers the door says she's Gayle Ruzicka, but this can't be her. Ruzicka has been ranked among the 20 most powerful people in Utah and one of the two most powerful women in the state — ahead of Christine Durham, the chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and Olene Walker, the lieutenant governor who became governor.

But the woman at the door looks like the local Relief Society president. The lady next door. She's as domestic as Betty Crocker. She's 62 and lives in a simple two-story home in a rural neighborhood in Highland, with a garden and a large yard. She's the mother of 12 and grandmother of 19.

This is Gayle Ruzicka?

This is the woman considered so intimidating that a former legislator, contacted for a comment, said she wanted to be anonymous because Ruzicka and her allies are "scary"? This is the woman who can mobilize an army of women to descend on Capitol Hill with a phone call? This is the woman who dares to fly in the face of political correctness and the age of hyper-tolerance?

As the president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, Ruzicka has politicians looking over their shoulders. She is a favorite subject of the media and letters to the editor. She has been called everything from fanatical to heroic to wacko to intolerant. She is famous for her phone tree and for browbeating — that's what rivals call it — legislators from her perch in the gallery above the state Legislature, which she once did while a half-dozen of her children sat by her side doing their homework.

The woman at the door introduces herself as Ruzicka and extends her hand as she welcomes a guest into her home. The walls are covered with enough photos of her family and extended family to qualify for a Hall of Fame. American flags and patriotic art are displayed throughout the house and on the front porch. There is a framed needlepoint: "Families are forever." There are prints of Christ and another of George Washington praying.

"I love being at home with my family," she says, looking around.

Home and family are her primary jobs. Politics is her side job, something she does because she believes somebody must do it. When she isn't staying up into the wee hours studying issues and laws on the Internet and contacting legislators and answering the phone that never stops ringing with people wanting her input or a speech, she cleans, cooks, shops, gardens, makes household repairs, reads voraciously, dotes on grandchildren and serves as a Relief Society teacher for her ward in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Meeting her in her home, no one would guess she is a grass-roots political force with a steely determination and energy that would seem to be beyond a mother of a dozen children.

As the head of the Eagle Forum, she is staunchly, unabashedly pro family and God, and all her other beliefs flow from there — her uncompromising, unapologetic stands on abortion, homosexuality, day care, pornography, liquor, education, school curriculum and "anything that infringes on the freedom of the family to rear children the way they want to." She has rallied support from around the state for her morality-based legislation, with help from her politically active children and husband, Don.

Friends and enemies

Her black-and-white views, combined with her power and effectiveness, have made her a polarizing figure in Utah politics.

"I don't think much of that woman," says a former legislator. "I don't have any respect for her . . . , and her husband's worse than she is."

"Political people want to discredit her as a right-wing wacko," says Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper. "She works hard to advance principles, and they try to discredit her. She doesn't deserve that."

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