The hyperbolic Randy Horiuchi is stepping down as state Democratic chairman this year.
But before Republicans, or even lay citizens, breathe a sigh of relief that this rotund, frenzied political junkie is gone forever, Horiuchi is already hinting that he may run for political office in 1990, perhaps the Salt Lake County Commission.Horiuchi served two terms as party chairman: 1985-87 and 1987-89.
And he did yeoman's service for the minority party. He sacrificed family and career for the volunteer post.
A personal tragedy drove Horiuchi. He and his wife adopted a handicapped baby boy. The baby died, and Horiuchi says he jumped headlong into the chairmanship "to save my sanity."
He became a workaholic, putting in long hours on party politics. At the close of his first term, he and his wife divorced. He decided to run again for chairman and worked even harder, blocking out a personal life turned bad. In his second term he even gave away his dog - a little schnauzer he loved - because he wasn't home enough to tend it.
Politics became a passion. He studied voting district results into the night. He cajoled, pleaded with and badgered Democrats into running for office.
Some might say he warped his life.
But look at what he achieved:
When he took over in 1985 the Democrats were really down. They'd just lost the governorship to a Republican for the first time in 20 years. They didn't hold any other state office and Republicans held solid two-thirds majorities in the Utah House and Senate.
The whole Utah congressional delegation, two senators and three representatives, was Republican, as was the Salt Lake County Commission and most other county commissions.
Horiuchi lead the charge that turned it around. In 1986 Democrats won a surprising 13 additional seats in the House, breaking the two-thirds stranglehold held by the Republicans.
Democrat Dave Watson won a seat on the Salt Lake County Commission and Wayne Owens won the 2nd Congressional District. Democrats were feeling their oats.
But 1986 was a high point, not a stepping stone as Horiuchi promised.
And now he leaves the chairmanship with a cloud over his career.
For Horiuchi, whose political instincts cut to the heart of a problem and whose humor often diffused it, made two bad political moves in the past 12 months.
Looking back, one mistake is understandable, the other isn't.
First, Horiuchi tied himself directly to the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Ted Wilson. It made sense at the time. Horiuchi was party chairman and it looked certain that Wilson would beat GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter.
Horiuchi moved out of his small office where he runs his consulting/ lobbying business into Wilson's campaign headquarters. He told this reporter that the governor's race was the most important race for the Democrats in a decade, and that he was going to be at Wilson's side so no major mistakes were made. He ultimately became a paid consultant to the campaign and was considered a major player in its strategy.
He announced he'd resign his chairmanship right after the election; he planned to be Wilson's deputy lieutenant governor - the point man for election control and political appointments to the state's hundreds of citizen boards.
In putting so much time into Wilson's campaign, Horiuchi had to delegate organization of the legislative races.
Horiuchi "guaranteed" that Wilson would win. He bragged that Democrats would gain 11 more seats in the Utah House and take control of that body for the first time in a dozen years.
He realistically believed he'd see a Democratic governor, two Democratic U.S. representatives, a Democratic attorney general and treasurer and a Democratic state House.
But 1988 turned sour for him. Wilson lost in a three-way race after leading Bangerter by 35 points in the polls. Democrats gained only one seat in the House (and later one conservative Democrat switched to the Republican Party, leaving the 1988 elections a wash for House Democrats). Democrats lost a seat in the Utah Senate.
Democrat Paul Van Dam did win the attorney general's post and Owens held on to his U.S. House seat, but Democrat Art Monson lost a state treasurer's race in which he was way ahead, Democrats couldn't hold on to the Salt Lake County Commission seat vacated by Watson and Gunn McKay lost to GOP Rep. Jim Hansen in the 1st District.
Horiuchi was the easiest to blame. He had pulled many of the strings in Wilson's failed campaign and neglected other races, some said. A number of Democrats immediately called for Horiuchi to leave, saying the party's leader should throw himself on the sword of defeat.
But Horiuchi decided to stay, in part to vindicate himself. In that effort, he made his next mistake - a real whopper.
Horiuchi was always trying to expand the base - the mass appeal - of the Utah Democratic Party. It was tough. The conservative nature of Utahns, fueled by the conservative nature of the dominant LDS Church population, doesn't lend itself to traditional Democratic ideals.
Democrats had always favored removing the sales tax from food and increasing the state's minimum wage. When Merrill Cook, whose independent candidacy may have cost Wilson the governorship, and tax limitation leaders remolded their political goals into removing the food sales tax and increasing the minimum wage, Horiuchi saw an opening: Combine Democratic politics with the tax limitation movement's new goals and win on several fronts.
Through Cook's initiative petition organization, the coalition could bypass the Republican Legislature and go directly to the voters on the food tax and minimum wage issues. That groundswell of support could encourage the conservative tax protesters to vote for Democratic candidates in 1990, maybe even sweeping the Republicans from power in the House.
But Democratic leaders, including Wilson and former Govs. Scott M. Matheson and Calvin Rampton, cried foul. They wanted nothing to do with Cook and the tax protesters (Matheson and Rampton helped defeat the tax limitation petitions in 1988).
Horiuchi was called on the carpet several times. In the end, he dissolved the attempted coalition between Democrats and tax protesters. Matheson, Wilson and Rampton now openly support Peter Billings Jr. to succeed Horiuchi, a candidate Horiuchi "has problems with."
Horiuchi has hand-picked Rep. Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan, to succeed him as chairman.
If Atkinson wins, Horiuchi will still be actively involved in the party apparatus, perhaps heading up the 1990 legislative races. If Billings or Marvin Davis, a 1988 Jesse Jackson delegate, wins the top post, Horiuchi will be retired.
In any case, gone will be the Horiuchi press conferences where he wore hip waders or displayed a filthy kitchen sink to symbolize Republican dirty politics.
Former GOP state chairman Craig Moody and House Speaker Nolan Karras say Horiuchi's style changed the face of Utah politics. Behind the scenes Horiuchi used computers and targeted voters and candidates to win upset victories. Up front he called names and kept Republicans off balance.
Horiuchi will be a hard act to follow. But the press and public may say they're ready for such a rest.