Patrick Shea has always liked a good debate, although there were a couple of years, when he was at Highland High School, that he didn't so much debate as argue. And there were a few times, when he argued too much, that his teachers threw him out of class.

That was before he discovered the debate team. Now, 25 years later, those skills are coming in handy. Shea has spent nearly every night lately appearing somewhere in the state to debate the merits of Tax Initiatives A, B and C.Greg Beesley, an initiatives proponent, calls Shea "the big gun himself." Mills Crenshaw prefers the phrase "hired gun" - hired, Crenshaw charges, by George Hatch, owner of KUTV, where Shea is general counsel. Not true, says Shea, who says his involvement with Taxpayers for Utah is his own idea.

"It's a way to thank all the teachers who have helped me along the way." Like other opponents of the initiatives, he worries that the proposed changes in property and income taxes will severely hurt the state's education system.

He says he got involved in the battle of the decade because he was "tired of the right wing saying `we know the truth.' It's like this Freedom Trail," he adds, pointing to the path in City Creek Canyon he has led the reporter to on a chilly autumn morning.

Shea had the idea for the trail a few years ago as a way to get high school students to think about freedom. With his encouragement, each of the city's six high schools erected a monument on the trail extolling constitutional freedoms.

Shea, who with a couple of friends started the City Creek Canyon Park Foundation, would like to see the canyon made into a biological study area for students. So far they've raised $50. City Creek, like many of Shea's passions, has had to take a back seat to the tax fight lately.

Shea used to hike the canyon nearly every day, talking over the world's problems with his oldest son. They had a particularly good discussion about nuclear proliferation one morning, he says, although 10-month-old Michael mostly listened.

At age 31 Shea served as counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during debate over the SALT Treaty. Being a player in some of the country's more intriguing political dramas was exciting, but after awhile, says Shea, the sort of backstabbing that goes on in Washington was no longer worth it. That's when he moved back to Utah for good.

Shea left Utah the first time when he went off to Stanford University to undergraduate school, the first person in his immediate family to go to college. The kid who was barely squeaking by in 10th grade at Highland High - before his teachers channeled his energies into debate - went on to become Stanford student body president, then studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. His lengthy resume includes Harvard Law School, a term on the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, and a stint as chairman of the Utah Democratic Party. In all these roles he has been respected for his intellect and his organizational skills.

"The job would not have gotten done without Pat," notes one observer in the anti-initiative camp - who adds, however, that his fiery temper sometimes inhibits free discussion.

Shea grew up with Republican parents but his world view was more influenced politically by watching the civil rights movement on TV in 1962. He became interested in political issues in Mr. Nelson's sixth-grade class at Dilworth Elementary School.

Shea worries that his opponents from the Tax Limitation Coalition view the world too much like a simple arithmetic question, when Utah's problems are more like differential equations, full of constantly changing variables.

While he doesn't agree with his opponents, Shea does think there is an upside to the conflict: "It has gotten people involved in the political process."