SALT LAKE CITY — Former state Sen. Chris Buttars, a lightning rod for controversy who adamantly opposed gay rights and championed drug offender treatment programs, died Monday at age 76.
Buttars, a Republican from West Jordan, served in the Utah Senate for 10 years before abruptly retiring at the end of the 2011 legislative session. A lifelong diabetic, he cited his poor health and that of his wife, Helen, for stepping down.
Blunt and outspoken, Buttars didn't hesitate to say what was on his mind.
When first running for the Senate, he told voters where he stood on issues but didn't want to hear their views.
"It served me well," he said in his resignation speech. "But I've sure been in a hell of a lot of trouble."
In the 2008 session, he was accused of making a racist statement on the Senate floor when he used the word "black" to negatively describe the "baby" being divided in a bill.
"This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark and ugly thing," he said. He apologized, and won re-election to a third term in November 2008.
Buttars co-sponsored Amendment 3, Utah's constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage. A federal court struck down the law in 2013, paving the way for way for gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Buttars also sponsored legislation against gay-straight alliances in public schools, introduced a resolution urging stores to have employees say "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays" to customers, and promoted an intelligent design bill.
Senate leadership removed Buttars as chairman of two judicial committees in February 2009 after he made anti-gay comments to a filmmaker making a documentary on California's Proposition 8. 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, which later became West Ridge Academy. He championed 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' journey into state politics all started in the '70s with sidewalks in West Jordan — or more accurately, the lack thereof. "It made me so angry," he said. He ran for City Council and won, and worked to put more than 100 sidewalks in the then-sleepy west-side town.
A father of six children, Buttars decided not seek a second term and thought his political career was over. But 17 years later, the GOP asked him to run for state 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 said he told voters in 2000.