To return to the Republican Party would compromise his purpose in running for governor, candidate Merrill Cook says.

Cook said he is not even slightly tempted by former candidate Jon Huntsman's plea for him to give up his independent status and return to the Republican fold.Shunning the hierarchy of the Republican Party and its policies, which Cook feels are out of touch with "independent, thinking Utahns," were precisely his purposes in seeking the governorship.

"Gov. Bangerter and the Republican Party have let Utahns down. There is a distinct division in the party by people upset with the tax hike and, let's face it, the failed Great Salt Lake pumping project.

"Huntsman was my most formidable opponent because so many are dissatisfied with Bangerter. Now, I believe many who were supporting Huntsman will shift to my camp."

With Huntsman's withdrawal, Cook expects to receive additional pressure from Republicans to give up his independent battle. Bangerter will try to make the race focus on the difference between the two political parties rather than his, Bangerter's, own leadership and accomplishments, he said.

Pressure will not lure him to change his ideas, Cook said. Before deciding to run as an independent he received intense pressure from high-ranking Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch.

"It would be impossible for me to carry on my fight against taxation and for education reform within the Republican Party."

Confident that Utahns support his efforts to cut taxes and improve education by reducing the over-paid administration in education, Cook said he will be elected governor and would have been even if Huntsman had remained in the race.

Despite recent criticisms of him by Utah Education Association leaders, Cook feels he has the support of many of the state's teachers. He makes a distinction between the UEA, which he calls an "arrogant union," and the majority of teachers.

"The UEA does not speak for all teachers. And they are not as powerful as they would like everyone to believe they are. In the last gubernatorial race, 55 percent of the teachers voted against the UEA-endorsed candidate, Wayne Owens, who lost the election."

UEA leaders say they are alarmed by Cook's choice of a running mate Lee Allen, who publishes a tax-protest newspaper because they feel drastic reduction in taxes would destroy Utah's education system.

Cook, however, ensures teachers that he and Allen are committed to "getting more for tax dollars in education while improving the classroom situation for teachers." Taxes would be reduced but education would remain a priority of his administration, if elected.

In an effort to become a "more attractive candidate," Cooks said he intends to trim his waistline.

"I'm trimming up my body and losing a double chin and things like that to make me an even more viable candidate.

"If the gubernatorial race is strictly a beauty contest, Ted Wilson is a pretty good looking guy. . . ."