Independence is the key to his candidacy, and that is why Merrill Cook did not respond to the attempt to draft him as the Republican candidate for governor last week, Cook told members of the Layton Rotary Club on Wednesday.

Cook said he was aware of the draft movement as he watched news accounts of the activity on a television in Beaver last weekend. He said he was ready to contact members of his campaign staff until Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, put the all-or-nothing stipulation into the offer."I couldn't do that, I couldn't give up my independence," Cook said. "I really wanted to give those delegates a chance to vote for me but I could not abandon those independents who are supporting my effort."

The former Republican said his candidacy is viable because he is not an extremist and because his philosophy is close to that of most mainstream Utah voters. He said he is the only candidate in the race who is free of special interest group influences and is the only candidate willing to publicly support calls for tax limitation measures.

"I think economic development is the most critical issue facing Utah and tax limitation efforts are absolutely necessary if Utah is to get back on the fast track," Cook said. The gubernatorial hopeful said high taxes are stifling Utah's business climate, and until that issue is addressed, Utah has no hope of rekindling the economic growth needed to meet job creation needs and to generate the revenues necessary to meet the education needs of the state's growing population.

Cook took issue with statements that his candidacy is hurting the Republican Party and is setting Utah up for a similar fate that has shaken Arizona state government. Cook said the Arizona situation was different because in that instance it was a defeated party candidate (rom the Democrats) who entered the field as an independent and split the voting, allowing Evan Mecham, a Republican, to win the election. Mecham has since been impeached and removed from office.

Cook said he believes if anything, his candidacy is helping Gov. Norm Bangerter's re-election bid.

"I don't think there is any question that Ted Wilson (he likely Democrat nominee) would win easily if it were a two-man race," Cook said. "I think the votes that are coming to me are mostly independents who likely would have voted for Wilson."

The candidate who manages to capture 36 or 37 percent of the vote will likely become governor, Cook said.

Cook said his popularity is based largely on his willingness to throw off allegiances with special interest groups and to face the need for tax limitation.