In retirement, Ervin M. Skousen won't putter around the golf course, but he doesn't intend to hang around the State Capitol, either.
After eight years in the Utah House of Representatives, he'll attend his last committee meeting Wednesday with the knowledge that he did accomplish a lot - but there's more he'd like to do.For six years, Skousen, R-Salt Lake City, has served on the Social Services Appropriations Committee (the last two years as co-chairman) and other key committees, reviewing human service programs to determine what should be funded and to what extent.
That broad exposure has given him strong opinions, he said, but during the legislative process his views have changed as he's become more informed.
Welfare programs are an example. "My original impression was that people on welfare more or less gravitated toward that life and have little desire to get off it. Now I am aware that some are just down on their luck. I found most are anxious to get out of the system, but they have often created their own problems (by doing things like dropping out of school.) Now, many are laden with family responsibilities that prevent them from getting additional training, unless they get help."
Advocates of human service programs have called Skousen "fair, extremely willing to learn and deeply committed to people." Those are adjectives he doesn't mind taking with him.
"It's been a real awakening. When you consider the small amount (welfare recipients) are given to pay rent, the necessities of life, for example, I don't see how you'd ever get by . . . .
"But I also have a strong feeling that if you give too much money, you destroy people's incentive and self-esteem. It's a balancing act."
Unfortunately, even when bona fide needs exist, lawmakers are sometimes forced to make hard decisions. He referred to 1987, when social service programs were cut almost in half.
Skousen didn't make legislative decisions casually. He's proud to say he studied every bill before he voted, and sought expert opinions on each piece of legislation he introduced. A self-described moderate, he said party ties were not important when he voted on an issue.
"The first thing I tried to do was educate myself on the problems of the state and tried to think of a resolution to those problems. I tried to read all of the information bulletins and brochures. Because I tried to read and analyze every bill being considered, I was sometimes frustrated by the tactics of legislators who put through lengthy and substantive bills at the last minute."
The lawmaker said his most foresighted accomplishment was pushing for a constitutional amendment to protect the school trust fund, established when the state was formed. Money from school land sales was to go into this fund, with the interest used to help fund education. In 1936, the Legislature raided the fund to help farmers who were going bankrupt, and although it was supposed to be repaid, nothing was done because "there's no money."
Skousen promoted a joint resolution to put money from from non-renewable sources on school lands into the trust fund and prevent such "revenue raids." Then voters strongly supported it, and it became law.
His regrets, while few, are important to him. He wanted to do more in education to reduce overhead and get money directly into the classrooms.
Skousen is also "almost retiring" from the drapery business he has co-owned with his brother-in-law for 34 years. The partners' sons are buying Bay-Way Window Furnishings.