In the 93-year history of the state, no Utah governor has died in office, but that doesn't mean Val Oveson takes his job lightly.

Oveson is Utah's lieutenant governor, the next in line to become the state's chief executive in case of a tragedy and the possessor of one of the state's most anonymous jobs. Like a right fielder in a church softball game, he sees little action but has to always be ready."I think about it all the time, and it's a very sobering position to be in when you think about it," Oveson said about the possibility he could be thrust into the governor's office. "We (Oveson and the governor) have an unstated policy that we don't ever travel on the same airplane together.

Thanks to a 1980 change in the state constitution, Oveson is not automatically in charge of the state every time Gov. Norm Bangerter leaves town. However, Bangerter has issued an executive order allowing Oveson to take over in case an emergency comes up and Bangerter can't be reached.

Bangerter is visiting the Orient this week on an economic development trip. So what happens if Utah suffers an earthquake or some other disaster and Bangerter can't be found?

"I would talk with our public safety and emergency management people, who have contingency plans for such emergencies," Oveson said.

"It's very much on my mind. I'm not sure it's on anybody else's mind. I have to make sure that I'm ready and prepared and know how to handle situations when they come up."

If Bangerter and Oveson both should die or be incapacitated, the job of running the state would go to state Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy. If he is gone, the next in line is House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy.

That's as far as the state's line of succession goes. There's hardly ever been a need to go further. The closest the state came to wiping everyone out was in 1985 when Bangerter, Oveson and then-house speaker Robert Garff were on the same plane traveling to the presidential inaugural.

"If Christensen had been there the whole line of succession would have been on the same Lear jet," Oveson said. Fortunately, the flight went smoothly.

Until something unusual happens, Oveson is happy to pick up speaking engagements Bangerter can't make and to handle other administrative duties as they come up.

He is not out of touch with state business.

"Gov. Bangerter could not be better toward me as far as I'm concerned," he said. "As far as including me in what goes on and making sure I'm involved and making sure he gets my opinion before making a decision - all of that happens.

"Probably the major role that I play is that of counselor and adviser to the governor."

He admits, however, that there are awkward moments, particularly when he shows up to speak before an audience that was expecting the governor.

"I arrive and they say, `Oh, Val. Gee, we didn't know you were coming with the governor.'

" `Well, um . . . I'm not coming with the governor. I'm coming for the governor,' Ovesnon says.

" `Oh . . . that's wonderful,' they say.

"They're disappointed. They just don't want to act disappointed to offend me."


Line of succession

1. Lieutenant governor

Val Oveson

2. Senate president

Arnold Christensen

3. Speaker of the House

Nolan Karras