Gov. Norm Bangerter's announcement Thursday not to seek a third term in 1992 is not a great surprise, although the fact he made the decision public two years before the end of his term is unusual.
Former Gov. Scott M. Matheson, who passed away this fall, waited until the spring of the election year, 1984, before saying he wasn't running again. But that delay didn't sit well with some Democrats, who said they were at a disadvantage in put-ting together campaigns on short notice.Bangerter didn't want to play that waiting game. He and his family decided when he ran for governor that he it would be an eight-year commitment. Aides say Bangerter was getting considerable pressure from some of his political advisers to run again.
But, since he'd already made the decision not to run, and since he'd briefly re-evaluated that decision, he decided to say it publicly early and thus get that pressure off his back. Bangerter met with his family over the Thanksgiving holiday and told them of his decision.
"As many of you know, I can't keep a secret very well," Bangerter told a press conference Thursday. So he decided to make it public before it leaked to some reporters.
Now the jockeying among Republicans who want his job will start. Democrats can wait a while, although with the power of the incumbency not being against them in 1992, more will likely look at the governor's office.
I'll write more about the contenders later.
In this space I want to pay tribute to Bangerter. I know, he still has two years left and who knows what pitfalls may be ahead. But a brief reflection isn't out of order.
I first met Bangerter in the early 1980s when he was speaker of the Utah House. Bangerter had a tough job. In the late 1970s and early 1980s a number of radical conservatives had been elected to the Legislature. Bangerter had a huge Republican majority in the House, but he was constantly being nipped and jabbed by the likes of Mac Haddow - smart, aggressive legislators who had political and personal agendas not necessarily in tune with moderate politics.
Bangerter, who says he learned the art of compromise in business and church callings, was a master at bringing the factions within his caucus together.
He was also a leader. In fact, Bangerter's strong leadership as speaker started a trend of House Republicans dominating the GOP Senate, which was a more fractious group that lacked strong leadership.
One incident, not meant for public consumption, really showed Bangerter's character to me. Senate President Arnold Christensen has a summer party each year at his Bear Lake cabin. Bangerter, now governor, attended one year and a party-goer video taped much of the proceedings, making copies for those who went. I got one of the copies and watched it.
Bangerter and others decided to enjoy some water sports. Bangerter, in his 50s, decided to ride one of Christensen's water jets - those motorcyclelike things that scoots across the water. It was difficult for a novice to mount the thing and get going. Time and again the governor, clad in a wet suit to protect him against the cold lake waters, tried. A wind current carried Bangerter further and further down shore as one of the senators' wives videotaped the attempt. For what seemed an eternity, Bangerter rose on the jet only to fall aside. Others gave up and went ashore to talk and eat. Bangerter kept at it.
Finally, after 40 minutes or more, Bangerter got up on the jet. He just wasn't going to be beaten by it. That tenacity is shown in many of his actions.
He fought for re-election, and won, even though multimillionaire Jon Huntsman challenged him in his own party, even though Democrat Ted Wilson was 35 points ahead of him in the polls even though independent Merrill Cook was drawing away his own party's right wing.
And through all of these troubles, Bangerter and his wife, Colleen, have been warm, kind ambassadors for the state.
While some Utahns have questioned Bangerter's actions, I think Bangerter will go down in history as a well-liked governor who faced some of the most difficult times in this state since the Depression. And as a man who never stepped away from a challenge.