While this may sound shocking (or, depending on your attitude, sad), some of the most interesting political races in Utah this year are for the Legislature.

Certainly, Merrill Cook's defense of his 2nd District seat before Democrat Lily Eskelsen's challenge could have its moments - Cook talking complex, boring tax matters while Eskelsen sings folk songs about children.And Steve Beierlein promises to cut up Rep. Jim Hansen in the 1st District.

But if you want to look at crowded candidate fields, challenges to incumbents and intra-party battles, look at the Legislature.

Perhaps the LDS Church's statement that loyal members should get involved in politics for the good of the citizenry had something to do with it. Maybe it was good recruiting by political party leaders.

But whatever, there are some very interesting races for the state House and Senate this year.

Here's a look at some items:

- Several candidates for the Senate are looking to "step down."

Former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson - who ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982 against Orrin Hatch and for governor in 1988 against Norm Bangerter - seeks the Senate District 1 seat.

Former U.S. House candidates Greg Sanders, a Democrat from Kaysville, and Parley Hellewell, a Republican from Orem, are running for the state Senate, as well.

Sanders is challenging Sen. Craig Taylor, R-Kaysville, a noted conservative, while Hellewell tries to get the GOP-safe seat of retiring Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem. Hellewell has company - three other Republicans have filed for that seat.

- A number of former Utah House members are looking to get back into the Legislature.

Dionne Halverson was forced to resign from the House in 1991 after she pleaded no contest to a shoplifting charge. She was a Democrat back then and was upset at a number of House Democrats for not standing up for her. Now she returns as a Republican and is running for her old District 10 seat in Ogden.

Paula Julander is running against Wilson for the Senate District 1 seat Democratic nomination. She retired from the House in 1992 after the GOP majority redistricted in 1991 and put her in the same Avenues seat with Rep. Dave Jones, D-Salt Lake. She was the lieutenant governor candidate for 1992 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stewart Hanson Jr.

Conservative Republicans Russell Cannon, Ron Fullmer and Merrill Nelson - House members who were defeated in their various re-election attempts - are all running for the state Senate this year in different districts.

- Shear numbers are impressive in some races.

Nine Republicans are running for the House District 54 seat held by Rep. Beverly Evans, R-Alta-mont. Evans is running for the state Senate, so the seat is open. Like all Uinta Basin legislative seats, this one is considered a GOP lock, although Democrat Cindy Barton-Coombs is in the race as well.

Seven Republicans, three Democrats, one Independent-American and one Independent are running for the District 56 held by retiring House Majority Leader Chris Fox-Finlinson, R-Lehi. A meet-the-candidate-night debate in that contest could have more candidates on the stage than voters in the audience.

Democratic candidates should be competitive in a large number of races, something that couldn't be said of the minority party field in legislative contests of years gone by.

There's a Democratic candidate in all but one Senate race. Rep. Dave Steele, R-West Point, doesn't have a Democrat against him. But Steele, an educator, is considered a moderate among GOP ranks, and Democrats can live with many of his votes.

House contests, especially those in Utah County and southern Utah, are more difficult. There are no Democrats in 14 of the 75 House races.

Still, there are Democrats in four House districts in Utah County, such a conservative county that in past years hardly one Democrat could be found to run for any office.

Republicans failed to get candidates in only two House contests - Reps. Gary Cox, D-Kearns; and Brad King, D-Price. Both Kearns and, particularly, Price are Democratic strongholds, and Republicans would have a tough time winning there.

- A number of incumbents are being challenged by members of their own party.

Since most seats in the Legislature are held by Republicans, it's natural that incumbent Republicans would see more intraparty challengers than Democrats. But the number of same-party challengers is interesting.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, has two Republican challengers. So does Sen. Al Mansell, R-Sandy. Sen. Steve Poulton, R-Holladay, has four Republicans trying to unseat him.

Rep. Richard Siddoway, R-Bountiful, has two Republicans after him. House GOP moderates say Siddoway is being targeted by the party's right wing for replacement.

So, if you're bored with the U.S. Senate race, uninterested in your congressional contests or county commission battles, take a look at your state House and Senate elections. You may find some interesting contrasts and personalities to study.