Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, sees himself as a common, everyday sort of man who just happened to trip into politics nearly 30 years ago.
It happened one summer when he turned on his faucet. All that would come out was muddy water or nothing at all. Hansen stormed around Farmington complaining about the water system until a neighbor told him to do something besides just talk. So Hansen rolled up his sleeves and ran for the City Council.That began a political career that has led him to four terms in Congress so far. But all along the way, Hansen said he never envisioned himself as a great statesman. He says he is more like the guy next door who likes fishing and gardening, but who also cares about how government runs.
"I still feel like a city councilman from Farmington who is somehow in the U.S. Congress. But that's what's great about America. You don't have to be rich or have a big name with church connections to get there," he said, in a mild slap at his opponent - who is a relative of a former LDS Church president.
Such verbal digs have made opponents complain that Hansen is harsh or "mean spirited." Hansen says neighbors in Farmington vouch that he is a pleasant church-going man, but is spirited when he fights for what he feels is right.
"They didn't elect me to be wishy-washy."
Hansen said when he was young and growing up in Salt Lake City, he never dreamed of becoming a politician. His only political memories were, "Mother and father were staunch Democrats, and I remember running around the house rooting for Roosevelt. But everyone did that back then. I feel if my parents were alive today, they would be Republicans, like I am."
But Hansen learned to work hard as a young man - a trait he says is most responsible for success in his life.
"I was the youngest of five children, and the only boy - so I was responsible for all the outside work," he said. "I feel the words `lucky' and `work' are synonymous. You are destined to achieve what you want if you work hard enough. Working brings luck."
So when he moved to Farmington after he was married 30 years ago, he wasn't afraid to work to fix the troublesome water system there. It took six years.
"When the system was finally finished, we went to cut the ribbon at the new pump house. When the switch was thrown, the floor started trembling and the whole place just blew up. I then learned a lot about lawsuits."
So he had to work harder the next year to help the city, contractors and engineers sort out their suits against each other, find out what went wrong and fix the water system. The city again held a ceremony to open the new system.
"Just the council and their wives came. It didn't blow up that time," he said. "I remember when I came home, I had a call from a man who asked if I was a councilman, then he started complaining that his garbage hadn't been picked up. I had just given six years of my life for that water system at $15 a month, and that was the thanks I got."
But that didn't discourage him from serving a total of 12 years on the City Council. During that time, he said he was often offended by the "arrogant attitude" that many state legislators had toward smaller cities.
So he decided to help fix that by again working hard and running for the Legislature. He said he soon learned that he was just as smart as anyone else there. So he and a friend from West Valley City decided they should run for speaker of the house and majority leader, respectively.
Hansen and his friend, Norm Bangerter, won. Bangerter, of course, is now governor.
In 1980, Hansen was asked by top Republican leaders to run for Congress. They even brought in former president Gerald Ford to ask him to run. But Hansen was reluctant, wanting instead to better pursue his insurance business, land development and a company that sold log cabins.
"But they felt that Davis County was the key to the race. If the Republican had won Davis County in any of Gunn McKay's five wins, they would have won the seat." And since Hansen was from Davis County and was well known as speaker of the Utah House, the Republicans wanted him.
"I finally said, `OK, I'll run. But if I don't win this time, just leave me alone in the future.' I won, and left all of the good stuff behind here to go to Congress."
Hansen said he has become a "political animal" through the years, finally, and enjoys being in Congress and in the middle of action. He fondly remembers a scheduled 10-minute interview with President Reagan that stretched to 40 minutes as Reagan became excited about Hansen's ideas to fight drunken driving.
"A few weeks later we were on the White House lawn to announce the new Presidential Commission on Drunken Driving. They told me I had to talk to the crowd because the president was called away to talk to (British Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher because war just broke out in the Falkland Islands."
Hansen said in true common-man form, "I really enjoy Congress, but still spend every available moment fly fishing or working in my garden."
And he is happy that that muddy water in his faucet 30 years ago prevented his long political career from going down the drain.