Ever since Jack Kennedy's brash, carefully calculated run for the presidency in 1960, major presidential candidates have made campaign biographies an integral part of their strategy. Such biographies are rare on the local scene, and never before has one served as the cornerstone of a Utah political candidacy - until now.
I just finished reading a glossy new campaign autobiography by Richard Eyre. It's called "Utah in the Year 2000: Choice or Chance?" (Eyre and Associates, 1991, 384 pp., $10) the idea for which was allegedly born while Eyre sipped an orange juice in Timbuktu and thought about the "less terrible problems" in Utah.The book is shaped like Utah with the missing right corner, a gimmick he says is actually a way to create a tab at the top of each page with a short excerpt from the page, a method of encouraging people who do not want to read the whole book to breeze through it by reading only the tabs.
Not such a bad idea maybe - especially for a culture said to prefer giving books for gifts to reading them - but I still found it annoying and concentrated more on prevention of paper cuts than the messages on the tabs. I also think the design is a detriment - both Eyre's name and the title are lost on a colorful topographical view of Utah.
Eyre may not approve of my designation of this as a campaign book, because he says he intends it as a statement of his vision for Utah's future. But I think the extraordinary promotion alone singles it out as a formal announcement of Eyre's intention to run for governor.
When was the last time you noticed a billboard at the 600 South on-ramp announcing the publication of a book? Most authors are happy with a foreword written by a well-placed friend, but Eyre includes 14 endorsements on the back cover, 33 additional endorsements inside, and five more in the foreword.
That's what I call name dropping on a grand scale.
Actually, the book is capable of speaking for itself and need not have been self-published. If a legitimate publisher had done it, the spelling and construction problems could have been easily corrected and the pedestrian writing style upgraded - while giving increased credibility to Eyre's ideas.
What Eyre needed most was a good editor.
But what we get instead is an eccentric style that gets in the way of the ideas. It is a curious mix of Eyre family history, visionary suggestions, textbookish instruction and anecdotal asides couched in boxes that appear on almost every page. In many ways it is a cheerleading book about the Utah Eyre obviously loves, but to his credit, it is also a solid attempt to state his views about numerous issues.
The section on the 1989 Eyre family trip to Utah's "blue roads" - a trip that took them into every one of Utah's 400 towns - is a not-so-subtle way of saying that Eyre knows Utah firsthand and better than anyone else in the state. In short, traveling the blue roads is his most effective campaign ploy.
In the 1970s he seriously considered running for Congress and would have had he not been called as an LDS mission president before he could announce his candidacy. But that was fortunate, because his three years in England enriched his life, and besides, he would have run for Congress with no program at all.
Well, he has one now and it's all in the book. It's just too bad that it is not more compact and more concise.
Eyre should have followed his own advice, given to someone who had to introduce George Romney when he was a 1968 presidential candidate in New Hampshire: "The less said, the better."
The book would also have been better without the overly creative and burdensome phrases organized in a collage to express all his ideas, such as "diversity over density," "manpower over money" and "values over voids." Ideas too carefully packaged seem suspect.
Eyre sees himself as a Jeffersonian who believes government should be minimal and limited - yet he makes some intriguing suggestions about what government should do about a wide array of problems.
He argues, for instance, that we should become committed to service and that we should teach values and ethics in our schools. He is prejudiced in favor of private education and suggests an ambitious and controversial voucher program that would allow parents a choice as to what schools their children attend - a program that is completely untested nationally.
In fact his overriding theme is how much better the private sector is than the public. His experience in England convinced him that socialized medicine is totally ineffective and so he has no patience with public-supported health plans. Yet his suggestion that "volunteerization" might solve public ills seems simplistic - and he forgets the homeless entirely.
Eyre is accurate when he suggests that Utah's traffic congestion is "almost amusing" when compared to the snarl and gridlock of other cities at all hours of the day. Yet his opposition to light rail and suggestion of a "user pay" and a "visitor pay" scheme for our major highways both to earn additional money and to discourage people from using them unnecessarily is unconvincing.
Eastern experience teaches us that people do not stop using roads because they cost money. Anyhow, toll roads were never intended to trim traffic but instead to maintain themselves.
He also thinks, consistently, that those who pollute the environment should pay for cleaning it up. He is worried about what he regards as negative campaign techniques in Utah and the fact that it is possible to cross over in primaries and defeat candidates of the opposite party. To steer clear of career politicians, he thinks full-time state officeholders, including the governor, should be limited to two four-year terms.
He thinks Utah should quit apologizing for its traditional values, and that Utahns have a destructive pre-occupation with their image. Instead of "Utah, a pretty, great state," he prefers "Utah, a whole new feeling." I do too, but it is hard to experience the feeling in this book - an awkward vehicle - somewhat worn after traversing the blue roads.
Maybe he should have stuck to the main streets.