A FEW YEARS AGO, I wrote a book about the political career of J. Bracken Lee, called "Let 'Em Holler," published by the Utah Historical Society.
The outspoken Lee was mayor of Price, governor of Utah and mayor of Salt Lake City. Whatever you think about Lee's conservative politics, you would have to agree the man was a legend in his own time.He always said what he thought, no matter who was listening. In the process he offended many, including members of his own party.
When, as governor, he criticized the popular presidential administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, many Republicans decided he had written his own political death warrant.
But they were wrong. Although he lost a third term as governor in 1956, he was elected mayor of Salt Lake City in 1959 and served three vigorous terms.
He was consistently frugal and fought a lifelong battle with the federal income tax. He was vocal about the fact that whenever he addressed a letter intended for the IRS to "Snoopers and Looters, Washington, D.C.," it always reached its destination.
The IRS, he said, was far worse than Adolf Hitler's Gestapo, who would "knock on your door and take ya out and kill ya or they'd put ya in jail. Your troubles were over. But these people will hound you from the day you file your first return and they'll hound your heirs after you're dead. And I can prove it. I've been audited every year since 1934 - without exception."
In 1955, Lee dropped a bombshell. He announced his intention to test the constitutionality of the income tax. He placed his own tax money in a trust account in Walker Bank in Salt Lake City with instructions that it was to be paid only on a court order.
Overnight he became a national sensation, ridiculed by some, glorified by others. It didn't take long for the IRS to attach his bank account without a court order. His well-publicized fight was over, but many wanted him to run for president.
His career as Salt Lake mayor was equally controversial. He constantly bickered with other members of the City Commission, and his decision to fire popular police chief W. Cleon Skousen, a conservative like himself, caused detractors to place burning crosses on his lawn.
Yet, it was as mayor of Salt Lake City that Lee made his greatest contribution. His political maturity generally served the city well during 12 years known for fiscal stability and capital improvements. Even though his principles remained constant, he was more temperate and more effective during his final years in office.
When Lee announced his retirement in 1971, he said he was "sick and tired of politics." I didn't believe it then, but I stopped by his house the other day and found a 95-year-old legend who no longer keeps up with the political scene.
When I asked his opinion of Gov. Leavitt, he said, "I don't DISLIKE him." When I asked him about President Clinton, he said, "I haven't taken an interest in him."
When I remarked about how unusual it was that he had supported a Democrat, Stewart Hanson, for governor in the last election, he said, "That's right. I'm not much of a Democrat."
In spite of enduring gall bladder surgery and pneumonia in the past two years, he still looks good. Now, instead of talking politics, he speaks lovingly of his mother, who lived to be 106, ("She was a peach") and his deceased wife, Margaret. ("Everybody that knew her loved her.")
The amazing politician most Utahns knew as "Brack" has lost some of his fire, but his remarkable imprint on Utah history remains secure.