To regulars at the state Capitol, something just won't seem right next year when the Legislature convenes its next regular session. Mike Dmitrich won't be there.
Dmitrich, a Democrat who represented the Price area and was Senate minority leader, announced last week he will not seek re-election. A few other lawmakers made similar announcements, but none was as momentous as Dmitrich's.
He first was elected in 1968, at a time when the state was much smaller, the nation was mired in the Vietnam War and Democrats were a force in Utah. In the intervening 40 years, his party's influence waned in the state, but Dmitrich's stature grew. He gained a reputation as a statesman and an effective lawmaker.
Democrats often face huge obstacles getting bills passed in Utah, but Dmitrich had the clout to get things done. He represented a part of the state that has missed out on much of the growth and economic prosperity that characterized those 40 years, and yet he has been a strong advocate for his constituents, making sure they weren't forgotten.
Mining is a major concern in eastern Utah. One of Dmitrich's last acts as a lawmaker was to pass SB224, which establishes a Utah Office of Coal Mine Safety, to be located in Price at a cost of $280,000 yearly. The bill was created in response to last year's Crandall Canyon Mine disaster that ended up taking nine lives. It will allow people to make anonymous complaints about mine safety violations, which is a necessary step in an industry where the normal regulatory process seems to be lacking. The bill also requires yearly reports on the safety of coal mines in Utah.
No one could blame Dmitrich, at age 71, for saying it is time to move on. Utah has a part-time, citizen Legislature. Service may bring notoriety and a measure of power, but it requires a great deal of time and energy. That is as it should be. But it also makes Dmitrich's record of service all the more impressive. He will be missed.