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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Utah State Senator Chris Buttars stands at his desk Thursday, March 10, 2011 at the Utah State Capitol

SALT LAKE CITY — After the gavel hit the dais late Thursday, the sometimes controversial and often quote-worthy Sen. Chris Buttars announced his retirement — with a clear conscience. 

"I can honestly state that I have never compromised in the defense of traditional values, nor have I voted on an issue to promote a personal agenda or simply to improve my chances of re-election," the Republican from West Jordan said.

Buttars made announcement on the Senate floor after the final gavel went down. He was first elected in 2000 and has two years left on his third term.

When first running for office, he said, he told voters where he stood on issues but didn't want to hear their views.

"It served me well. But I've sure been in a hell of a lot of trouble," he said.

A lifelong diabetic, the 68-year-old Buttars has suffered poor health in recent years. "Let me tell you, getting old is not for sissies. It's tough."

The West Jordan Republican was often a lightning rod for controversy during his tenure.

In the 2008 session, he was accused of making a racist statement on the floor when he used the word "black" to negatively describe the "baby" being divided in a bill.

He quickly apologized for saying, "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark and ugly thing" and won re-election to a third term in November 2008.

Senate leadership removed Buttars from as chairman of two judicial committees in February 2009 after he made anti-gay comments to a documentary filmmaker. He continued to chair the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and co-chair the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

For years he worked with troubled and drug-addicted youth as director of Utah Boys Ranch, now known as West Ridge Academy. He was a champion of the Drug Offenders Reform Act or DORA, which funded rehabilitation as an alternative to prison for substance abusers. He also supported assisting child crime victims and raising the minimum wage.

Buttars also sponsored legislation against gay straight alliances in public schools, introduced a resolution urging stores to have their employees say "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays" to customers and promoted an intelligent design bill.

Buttars recounted how his journey into state politics all began in the ’70s with sidewalks in West Jordan, or more accurately, the lack thereof. "It made me so angry," he said.

Buttars ran for City Council and won, and he worked to put in more than 100 sidewalks in the then-sleepy west side town. 

A father of six children, Buttars decided not seek a second term. "I didn't think I'd be in politics again," he said.

He said he thought his political career would end there, but 17 years later, the GOP asked him to run for senate, which he did under the theme of defending traditional values.

"I'm going to tell you how I stand and I don’t want to hear how you stand, and you may not agree with me, but you'll know where I stand," Buttars told his would-be constituents during campaigning.

Buttars said his political philosophy, albeit unconventional, has served him well, but not without getting him in "a lot of trouble."

Of his service in the Legislature, Buttars said, "It's been an enormous responsibility and a challenge, and a privilege."

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