Gov. Norm Bangerter lost a fight in the Legislature this week.

For most governors, that would be routine. But not for Utah's.You see, in the seven legislative sessions Bangerter has overseen, he has lost few battles. On reflection, I'd guess he has lost no fight he personally entered.

He won the biggest battle, of course - the $160 million tax increase in 1987. Yes, the governor did ask for more than that, about $230 million if I remember correctly.

But by the end of that session, he agreed that $160 million would do. And it did. In fact, record surpluses flowed into state coffers.

Two years ago, Bangerter won another big one - the 2 mill levy leeway for local school boards. The leeway helped avert a teachers strike in 1990.

So, it was with some surprise that I watched Bangerter lose his first veto override on Wednesday. Odds were with him, as he telephoned Republican senators throughout the afternoon, asking them to stand with him.

It appeared he had won.

But Democratic Sen. Paul Fordham, after voting with the governor the first time around, decided to abandon him. Fordham's switch allowed the Senate to reach the magic number of 20, the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

The issue was a technical one, a separation of powers struggle between the executive and legislative branches. Clearly, Bangerter, a Republican, would win any partisan veto matter, since Republicans hold healthy majorities in both the state House and Senate.

The override is significant not in the amount Bangerter vetoed - $592,000 in state building planning money - but in how the relationship between the governor and Legislature has changed.

True, it's only a slight change.

But Republican leaders decided to take a stand on this veto. They decided to stand up for their branch of government, arguing that if a governor, any governor, is allowed to extend his line-item appropriation veto, as Bangerter did in this case, then lawmakers lose significant control over spending. And the power of the purse is jealously guarded in state houses and Congress.

Bangerter said that what he did was right, good fiscally conservative government, and legislators shouldn't get so upset. Attorney General Paul Van Dam, who has often sided with the governor, did so again, opining that Bangerter can legally veto any number in the budget bill regardless of whether it is a number line item.

This particular battle took on importance above the individual issue, however, when Bangerter decided to bring all his personal and political power to bear.

In the past, when he has personally lobbied Republican senators - and in recent years it has been in the Senate where he has won his close contests - it has worked. Two years ago the governor sat in Senate President Arnold Christensen's office as wayward GOP senators were called in one at a time for a personal heart to heart talk on granting the 2 mill leeway to school districts. It took two days, but Bangerter won.

This time it didn't work.

It's not because the governor is a lame duck. (He announced last year he wouldn't seek a third term in 1992.) The governor couldn't have been much more of a lame duck than during the 1988 Legislature when polls showed him 35 points behind Democrat Ted Wilson in that year's governor's race - and Bangerter still got about everything he asked from the GOP Legislature.

It's not because he didn't try this time.

Rather, I think Republican and Democratic legislators, who have been there so often for Bangerter, decided to step out of his shadow, if only for a moment in time.

There's no great split here. The governor got 99 percent of all he asked out of this special session, and he'll get most of what he asks for from future special sessions and the 1992 Legislature - the governor's last general session. But at least on Wednesday, we found out that there are still three independent branches of government in Utah.