At first glance, M. Tom Shimizu seems like the type of person you would never expect to become a politician.
He is soft-spoken. He is awkward in front of reporters. He doesn't seek the limelight, and he feels uncomfortable in confrontational debates.But Shimizu, a Republican who spent five years on the Salt Lake County Commission before running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1986, said he began yearning for a chance to serve the public while living in California during the mid-1960s.
That was when Shimizu, a young civil engineering graduate who was working as a construction manager, contributed money to help Ronald Reagan run for governor. Shimizu was excited by Reagan's philosophy and by his success.
"I said to myself, `Someday I want
to be in community service in some way,' " Shimizu said.
The chance didn't come until 1981, when commissioners Bart Barker and Mike Stewart appointed Shimizu to fill a vacancy on the County Commission, an event he calls "surprising, even a miracle."
Now, two years after he gave up that job to run against Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, a contest he lost, Shimizu, 55, is anxious to return to the county and to public life.
He has filed to run for the two-year commission seat now held by Democrat Dave Watson. His opponent, however, will be Democrat Dale Gardiner, Riverton's mayor.
Shimizu said he is running not because he misses the attention of public life, but because he feels a responsibility.
"In the past two years I've had a chance to see how working people are struggling," he said. "We need to economize and make government more efficient."
Shimizu, no doubt remembered for the level crew cut that inspired a set of campaign billboards in 1986, believes strongly in the need for self-reliance with a minimum of government interference.
He spent the past two years building business ventures, including one he hopes will soon become a string of small restaurants known as the "Sandwich Loft." Government, he believes, is making life too difficult for the entrepreneur.
"My goals and purposes have not changed," he said. "The one good thing that came from my being back in the private sector was that I could see what taxes do to people and businesses. I certainly feel our taxes are too high right now and would want to get them down."
However, he stops short of endorsing efforts to pass two tax-limitation initiatives that may appear on the ballot in November. One would roll state income taxes back to 1986 levels. The other would reduce property taxes to no more than .75 percent of the value of a house.
"It would be difficult for us to cut back to that degree," he said of the initiatives.
Critics say Shimizu carries his philosophy so far he lacks compassion for the people who rely on government services.
However, Shimizu said, his belief in self-reliance and minimal government stems from a childhood of struggles. Born in Los Angeles, he was forced to move with his family to Utah after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The government said the Shimizus could either live with relatives in Springville or go to internment camps in the desert.
The family soon moved to the Salt Lake Valley and began farming. When Shimizu returned to Utah after serving as an LDS Church mission president in Japan, he bought the 11-acre farm his family owned when he was young.
"My feeling was I wanted them (his four boys) raised on a farm," he said. Although he doesn't have time to be a serious farmer, Shimizu said, he still maintains several fruit trees on the property.
"I grew up working on a farm. It taught me industry - how to work," Shimizu said. "It taught me that I had to take care of responsibilities right away. That's where I picked up the principle of self-reliance."