Bill Orton dies in accident
ATV rollover in Juab kills the former 3-term Utah congressman
After three terms, Orton was defeated in 1996 in large part because Utahns were upset that President Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, largely without informing Orton or the Utah delegation until the last moment — and made him, as a Democrat, pay for it. Orton, however, won some concessions about that monument from Clinton at the last moment. For example, at his urging, it became the first national monument to be operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (which local residents had a better relationship with than the National Park Service), and was intended to continue to allow hunting.
He lost his congressional seat to Republican Chris Cannon. Their race was considered one of the hottest in the nation at the time.
Cannon was stunned by word of his former rival's passing.
"I knew Bill from the time we went to law school together in 1977 and always had the greatest admiration for him. We had differences politically, but I think we always had respect for each other, and in recent years we had a very amicable relationship," Cannon said. "Utah is much poorer for losing Bill Orton's thoughtful and insightful approach to public issues."
After leaving Congress, Orton, a Brigham Young University graduate, returned to the private sector as a tax attorney and a consultant, working out of a home office in Ogden. In a 2000 Deseret News profile on Orton, family and friends described him as "the studious type" as a youngster growing up in North Ogden, the third of Donald and Carroll Orton's five children. He devoted himself to his schoolbooks rather than athletics or socializing.
He returned to public life in 2000, challenging Mike Leavitt for governor. He made the race a referendum on education, holding Leavitt's feet to the fire on the issue.
Holland said in recent years, the party tried to persuade Orton to return to politics to run for either Congress or state treasurer. He resisted, in part because of lingering back problems he suffered in 1996 when he was randomly attacked at the Capitol by a man who later pleaded guilty to assault on a congressman.
"He's been getting better and enjoying his family, finally getting back pain relief," Holland said. "A couple of years ago he wouldn't be able to ride his ATV."
Orton remained active in state party politics, serving as a Democratic National Committeeman and casting a superdelegate vote for the party's presidential nominee in 2008, Barack Obama. He attended the inauguration in January, Holland said.
Funeral arrangements for Orton have yet to be announced.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche, Lee Davidson. E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
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