Gov. Norm Bangerter doesn't hesitate when asked who inspires him politically.
"Harry Truman," he says.Truman, a Democrat, is not someone normally associated with Republicans, but Bangerter, who has presided over four stormy years in Utah, says he likes Truman's honesty and style.
"He told it like it was," Bangerter said. "I don't know that he was the most effective president, but he didn't try to please anybody."
Bangerter is not trying to please anyone tonight, either. He appears confident and answers questions openly and easily as he relaxes aboard a small twin-engine plane. A busy day of campaigning and debating in southern Utah is behind him.
After four years as governor, Bangerter feels he has a lot in common with Truman. Bangerter blames his re-election struggles on decisions he made that were politically unpopular despite being the best for the citizens of the state.
"With Truman, you didn't have to wake up in the morning wondering whose side he was on," he said.
But while few people ever wonder what side of the issues Bangerter is on, his closest aides lament that few people see the governor's warm and humorous side.
This is the side that emerges in one-on-one interviews and informal settings, not in stilted political speeches, press conferences and debates.
It emerged earlier in the day when Bangerter was walking through the campus of Southern Utah State College and a male student stopped him to say his name was Norm, too.
"I hope no one shoots you for it," Bangerter said with a playful smile.
It emerged later at a speech to Dixie College students.
"I may have picked a bad time to be governor," he deadpanned. "But I picked a good time to be out of business."
Born and reared in Granger, which now is a part of West Valley City, Bangerter likes to call himself a hard-working country boy. He is not flashy or charismatic, but he has a down-to-earth style many Utahns find easy to identify with.
The youngest of 10 children, he often quotes his father as saying, "In all thy getting - get going."
Bangerter has had little trouble getting going in his life. He was a successful builder anbd developer for 25 years. He has been faithfully active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, becoming a bishop at age 28 and a stake president at age 34. He and his wife, Colleen, have six children and one foster child.
Bangerter started working as a carpenter when he was a teenager. He and his older brothers worked with his father out of their Magna home during the late 1940s. They did mostly remodeling jobs, but they did build a few houses, Bangerter said.
After graduating from Cyprus High School, Bangerter worked full-time for his father. But in 1953 he found himself in an Army uniform - he was drafted, assigned to the Signal Corps and sent to the Korean War.
Bangerter served 16 months in Korea, getting home in December 1954. He immediately went to work with his brothers and started building new houses in the WestValley area.
He built four houses for himself, selling each one as it was finished and slowly building his investments. In the early 1960s, he decided to try his luck at selling Connecticut Mutual Life Insuranc. He lasted only a few months, deciding to re-enter the construction business with renewed vigor. Together with two realestate friends, he started SJB Construction and began building subdivisions.
Bangerter's financial success came in the 1960s and '70s, times of rapid growth in the unincorporated valley when thousands of houses were built. A lot of those were built and sold by Bangerter and his new partner, Marvin Hendrickson.
They stayed together until 1982, when Hendrickson jokingly told Bangerter he could no longer support his "political habit." They parted on friendly terms.
Along the way, he also joined with five other developers and started Dixie Six Corp., another real estate firm.
Bangerter enjoys a variety of sports. He enjoys basketball so much he will have to undergo knee surgery after the election for a minor injury suffered while playing with his sons. Six years ago he broke his fifth and sixth vertebrae playing the same sport.
Bangerter decided on his own to run for the Utah Legislature as a representative 14 years ago. As he likes to point out, he won that race despite being traditionally Democratic and despite the Watergate scandal that made winning difficult for most Republicans that year.
Although he was unknown when he took office, Bangerter quickly earned a high profile as a successful coalition builder among fellow lawmakers. By 1981 otherswere mentioning him as a possible candidate for governor.
At age 55, Bangerter has lived a life many feel qualifies him for a few yearsof enjoyment and relaxation. He has entertained those thoughts from time to time, such as when he wistfully drove through St. George earlier in the day, passinga house he owns and land he used to own.
On the way to the speech at Dixie College, Bangerter asked his driver to pullinto a newly built subdivision and stop at the model. The governor ran inside and soon came back with a handful of floor plans and brochures.
Later, he pointed to a new subdivision and said he once owned the 18 acres itsits on. "Then I had to get stupid and run for governor," he chuckled.
But Bangerter insists he wants to put the good life on hold for a while as heserves the state.
"If I don't do it, someone else will take charge and do everything wrong," he said.
Bangerter admits he probably would not have voted for Truman in 1948 even if old enough. He cast his first vote for Dwight Eisenhower.
He wants to be like Truman, only with a Republican twist. While even ardent supporters are unlikely to yell "Give 'em hell, Norm!" Bangerter believes he possesses the ability to lead stubbornly and persistently while also soothing strongfeelings, diplomatically urging others to follow his decisions.
There is one other reason why he likes Truman.
"He (Truman) came from behind to win in 1948, and he was battling against a third-party candidate," said Bangerter, who trails 7 points in the latest Dan Jones & Associates Deseret News poll and has been hampered by a third-party candidate who broke from the Republican Party.