Gov. Norm Bangerter's announcement that he will retire from politics at the end of his second term has pushed up the start of the 1992 gubernatorial campaign to the surprise of political hopefuls in both parties.
Republicans and Democrats said after the GOP governor revealed his intentions Thursday that they were caught off guard more by his timing than they were by what he had to say."The big surprise was that the announcement was made this early," state Republican Party Chairman Richard Snelgrove said.
For Bangerter, making his decision public two years before his term ends in January 1993 provides a welcome relief from the increasing speculation about his political future.
While the governor said he is looking forward to the end of his term so he can spend more time with his family and resume his construction business, he has promised he will work as hard as ever during the remainder of his term.
"We need to finish this administration with the same energy we started it with. The people of Utah should know they have my full energy and attention in the rest of this term," he said in an interview Thursday.
But what the governor has done is turn the energy and attention of many Utahns to guessing who will be his successor - much sooner than anyone expected.
"It means that in 1992 we're going to have a lot of activity," Snelgrove predicted. "You're going to see those people sending up trial balloons and doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work, polling and such."
That's not what Bangerter said he had in mind. "I don't see this as starting the election cycle early," he said. "We don't need a two-year campaign for governor or for any other office."
But the names of dozens of Republicans and Democrats are already surfacing as potential contenders. Some, like Lt. Gov. Val Oveson and Democratic Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, are widely known to be interested.
A few have flatly ruled out a race, including Ted Wilson, the Democrat who lost a close race to Bangerter in 1988 and now serves as director of the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics.
"This certainly doesn't catapult me into any action," Wilson said of the effect of the governor's announcement on his own political aspirations. "I have none. I'm a college professor."
Another name that won't be on the ballot belongs to industrialist Jon Huntsman, who also challenged Bangerter briefly in 1988 before dropping out of the GOP primary.
"I have absolutely no desire to seek any elected office," Huntsman said, describing his 1988 bid as an effort to focus more attention on economic development.
Bangerter named him the state's ambassador for economic development, a position Huntsman said he would like to retain no matter who takes over the governorship.
Republicans said they were pleased with the timing of the governor's announcement, claiming it gives their party an advantage in the gubernatorial race by clearing the way for potential candidates to step forward.
"Making his announcement this early shows a great deal of class because it gives the party an opportunity to prepare itself," said Dan Marriott, who hasn't ruled himself out as a candidate. Marriott was defeated by Bangerter in the 1984 GOP primary.
"It really does help," House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, said. "From a political standpoint, it shows the governor is looking out for the best interests of the party."
But Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said candidates who announce their intentions too soon won't be around to finish the race. He acknowledged he was interested but did not say whether he would run.
Democrats were also startled to hear of Bangerter's plans so soon. "I am a little surprised at the timing of the announcement," said State Democratic Party Chairman Peter Billings Jr.
"I think the last election showed that we would give him a strong race for re-election and that he might well lose. But I am sure the governor had personal reasons, as well as political reasons," Billings said.
"A lot of us thought there was a possibility of him seeking a third term," said newly named House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake.
Still, Pignanelli said the news hasn't changed his party's plans. "We will be gunning for that position in '92."