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House Speaker Jim Hansen and Senate President Miles "Cap" Ferry on closing day of the budget session, February 2, 1980.

If public servants are measured by their devotion to service, rather than to any of the many connotations of the word “public,” Jim Hansen ranks as one of the best to hold that title in Utah.

Hansen, who died Wednesday at the age of 86, served in the U.S. House for 22 years, longer than any other member of that body from Utah, but he did so out of a sense of obligation and passion for issues about which he cared deeply.

He worked tirelessly for what he considered to be the best management of Utah’s public lands, often angering environmentalists in the process. And yet he sponsored a bill that created wilderness in U.S. forest areas.

He was fierce in his defense of Hill Air Force Base, which mattered greatly when the Clinton administration closed several military bases after the end of the Cold War.

He chaired the House Ethics Committee at a time when fellow Republican Newt Gingrich came under investigation. To Hansen’s credit, people from both parties said they trusted him to handle that situation with fairness and equity.

Even when he voluntarily chose not to stand for re-election at the age of 69, he kept his hand in public service, forming a lobbying group that worked on behalf of energy companies. He even ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2004.

He also called this newspaper from time to time, offering opinion pieces we gladly published. These essays, such as one he wrote in 2013 advocating for congressional term limits, provided perspectives unique to a longtime member of Congress.

Term limits, he said, would allow representatives nearing the end of their tenure to “devote their complete time and talents serving the people.” Only a person who had submitted himself to 11 separate election campaigns could understand how distracting things like fundraising and campaigning could be from the real work at hand.

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Hansen entered politics because he was upset with the way Farmington’s water system was being run. He spent the next 42 years of his public service career, through the Farmington City Council to the Utah House, where he served as speaker, and onto Washington, exhibiting the same sort of passion.

To Hansen, being a public servant was not a job, it was something he did to serve those who had entrusted him with their votes. That’s important to remember in an age when many seem to enter politics out of a desire to please party ideologues rather than serve the interests of constituents.

It’s also a reason why the people of this state owe a debt of gratitude for his devoted service.