Utah may have won big in three ways when George Bush became president-elect. And in any casino when someone shows "winner" in three categories, they've hit the jackpot.
In the high-stakes game of national politics, here's where Utahns in Washington say the state may have scored high:-Several Utahns are mentioned as possible appointees in the Bush administration. Their presence could help keep the president-elect sensitive to Utah and Western issues.
-Bush's political stands indicate he will likely make decisions that will bolster the state's large defense, space, oil and copper industries - but he may have to deal with a hostile Congress, which became more strongly controlled by Democrats.
-Bush will likely try to accommodate the desires of Utahns when his administration decides how to administer the vast tracts of federal land there - which should keep the "Sagebrush Rebellion" from reigniting.
About the first category, Sen. Jake Garn said, "No doubt when a Republican is elected, several Utahns will serve in the administration." Speculation has abounded about many Utahns who could serve in a Bush administration.
Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, has said former Republican Party Chairman Richard Richards, an Ogden native who has been a senior adviser to the Bush campaign, is rumored to be under consideration as secretary of Interior.
Richards himself said he doubts that but would likely serve if asked. He said he would prefer an appointment as an ambassador - preferably to Japan, the Far East or Mexico, countries where his current work as a lobbyist sometimes takes him.
Another Republican mentioned for a possible cabinet position is chemical company magnate Jon Huntsman, the one-time candidate for governor this year. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, "I know the Bush people would love to have him in the administration. But I'm not sure Jon could afford to leave his business right now."
Huntsman's son, Jon Jr., said at the Republican National Convention that his father had been contacted about the possibility. Huntsman himself later said business interests would prevent him from serving - but rumors say Bush still wants him.
Nielson has said a Utah Democrat even has the possibility of serving in the Bush administration. He said rumors are floating that former Gov. Scott M. Matheson might also be considered for secretary of the Interior.
While considering a Democrat may seem strange, the Reagan administration once wanted Matheson for a hazardous-waste management job. Nielson also said several Utah congressmen backed him for the Interior job when former In
terior Secretary James Watt stepped down.
But Matheson, and many others, say he doubts the possibility. "You have to realize that a president is elected by a political process, and it doesn't go away that fast when the election is over. I think he would find it extremely difficult to appoint a Democrat from Utah."
A Utahn considered likely for a White House staff job is Steve Studdert, who had been an advance man who planned details of trips for President Reagan. Richards, who works in a law firm with Studdert, said Studdert has been traveling with Bush for months on the campaign trail handling arrangements. "He travels in the plane with George every day."
Two Utahns who have held jobs that are among the 100 toughest in government, according to the Center for Excellence in Government, may also hang onto their posts, at least temporarily.
Deputy Attorney General Harold Christensen, the former Salt Lake lawyer who is the No. 2 man in the Justice Department, said he is willing to stay on for another year or so if needed. He said, however, he doesn't want to stay much beyond that because he would like to travel. He said he also would welcome a State Department appointment such as ambassador.
NASA Administrator James Fletcher, a former president of the University of Utah, has said he intends to leave his job as the new president takes power, Garn said. But a NASA spokesman said Fletcher is willing to stay on a year or so to provide a smooth transition. The spokesman said appointment of a NASA administrator also usually comes late among the 4,500 or so appointments that a new president must make.
Finally, some people with Utah connections might be considered for vacancies in the Supreme Court when they occur. Hatch said Rex Lee, former U.S. solicitor general and a BYU law professor, and J. Clifford Wallace, a federal judge in California who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are possibilities. Hatch's name is also mentioned in rumors, but Hatch downplays his own chances.
Of note, a former Utahn _ Richard Wirthlin, the one-time head of the economics department at BYU _ has been President Reagan's pollster for the past four years but will not continue such close work with Bush. The new president-elect has his own pollster.
Utahns in Washington also say that Bush will likely make decisions to benefit industry in Utah _ and in some cases may be better for some Utah industries than was President Reagan.
For example, Nielson said the Utah oil industry will be helped by having a former Texas oil man in the White House. "The energy boom has to come back some time, and it will help to have an oil man in office when it does."
Nielson and Hatch also feel Bush may be more willing than was Reagan to protect the copper industry from unfair foreign competition. They say Bush's background as an oil man makes him familiar with what foreign competition may do to domestic industries unless properly controlled. Garn, however, said political realities may not allow Bush to do much on the issue.
Regarding space industries, Garn said Bush with his Texas background _ where many space facilities are based _ has been a staunch supporter of the space program, which provides many jobs in Utah.
Garn remembers after the space shuttle Challenger disaster that he and Bush flew to meet with the families of the killed astronauts. He said the wife of the mission commander pleaded that they not let the space program die because of the accident. "George told them to not worry, that we would build on the past and that would be vital to honor those who were killed."
In contrast, Garn said Michael Dukakis only belatedly endorsed space projects such as a space station after pressure from Democratic senators in areas where the space program is essential to local economies.
Most Utahns in Washington agree that Bush, like Reagan, will want to continue to strengthen defense, which would help defense contractors and defense installations in Utah. But Hatch said, "Don't expect Bush to be as much of a defense advocate as Reagan."
And Garn warned, "He will have to deal with a hostile Congress."
Nielson said installations such as Dugway Proving Ground and Tooele Army Depot likely won't be affected much "because they have specialized duties that don't change much from year to year" but thought Hill Air Force Base might have operations strengthened under continued pushes by Bush for strong defense.
But the outlook may not be good for Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City. Hatch said Bush will likely support the recommendations of a new commission that is evaluating what older bases should be closed to save money. Fort Douglas will likely be on that list. Lobbying in Congress could save the base though, he said.