Gov. Norm Bangerter is not a flashy politician. He may not even be a very good politician.
After all, he wouldn't be trailing Republican Jon Huntsman and Democrat Ted Wilson in the polls if he were a great politician.But as Huntsman, Wilson, and independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook may well find out, it's not wise to underestimate the governor. He is a tenacious competitor who hates to lose, who hates to even be challenged.
Let me tell you a little story.
Every year, Utah Senate President Arnold Christensen holds a summer party for fellow senators at his cabin on Bear Lake. Two years ago Bangerter, a friend of Christensen's from the governor's days as House speaker, and his wife, Colleen, attended the party. Also on hand were former Senate President Cap Ferry and his wife, Sue, who is an amateur photographer. Put a video camera in her hand and you can't get it away from her. Sue recorded six hours of the weekend's fun.
Christensen decided the antics should be kept for posterity, and so made copies of the videotape and gave them to fellow senators. He was passing the tapes out in a meeting I attended and he gave me one.
My natural curiosity got the better of me. I decided to view it. Here was a chance to see state senators in action, so to speak. I didn't know, and Christensen didn't tell me, that Bangerter was on the tape.
I didn't view the whole six hours. I'm not a masochist. But there was a very telling part early on.
Various members of the party, Bangerter and Christensen included, were preparing to ride water jets you know, those machines that look a little like snowmobiles but ride in the water.
Now, the brand of water jets that Christensen owns are, you learn from the video, rather difficult to master. They are big and bulky, easy to control once going, but difficult to mount and get started in deep water.
The day was a bit chilly, windy with white-water breakers. The water appeared to be cold. Bangerter donned a wet suit and waded into Bear Lake, Sue videotaping loyally.
Bangerter tried to mount the bobbing water jet. The technique is clearly tricky. One must throttle up the machine and, as it draws away from you, pull yourself up on to the seat from the rear. Attempting to get on from the side, like mounting a horse, just tips it over.
Time and again the governor tried to get going. Time and again he failed.
On the videotape you could hear comments from those standing on the shore. "Oh, there goes the governor. He's . . . oh, he almost got up that time." And so on.
The wind-tide slowly dragged the governor, still trying to mount the water jet, down the shoreline. Sue zoomed the camera lens, but the governor floated farther and farther away.
Meantime, a second water jet malfunctioned. Designed to throttle down to a stop if the rider falls off, the jet's throttle stuck and it raced out into the lake, riderless. Christensen and a couple of other senators jumped into his power boat and chased after the fleeing water jet.
Bangerter floated on, his graying head obscured by the rising waves from time to time. He continued to struggle against the wind, waves and water jet.
I watched the video for half an hour, until Sue finally set the camera down. Bangerter never got up although Christensen told me that the governor did, indeed, get in a ride or two later on.
Now, what does this aquatic episode tell us? Here is a man who is supposed to be having a relaxing time among friends at the shore. He's not in the public view, doesn't have to prove anything.
And yet he battles a stubborn water jet, in cold and choppy water, for more than a half-hour. It is clearly tiring work and certainly not very fun.
Another person might have quit, laid on the beach in the sun and enjoyed the day. But Bangerter doesn't give up. He doesn't let the unpleasant, difficult situation beat him. He finally wins.
Take heed, Huntsman, Wilson, and Cook.