Tuesday morning, I received the shocking news that my dear friend Norm Bangerter had suffered a severe stroke. My thoughts and prayers were with him and I was saddened but relieved when I heard that he had passed away Tuesday afternoon. Norm had many great qualities, but he was not a patient man and frankly he would have made an awful invalid.
There is much that has been written and said about the former Governor this week, but I had a unique attachment and relationship with the guy. I remember when I was Deputy Lt. Governor and met with him for the first time. Here was a guy from the West Side who beat an entrenched Democrat in the Watergate year. Upon meeting him, I understood why. He was smart, bright, commonsensical. He knew how to get things done and how to bring people along with him. He and Jim Hansen, who later became the longest serving Congressmen in the history of our state, made a phenomenal duo with Hansen as Speaker and Norm as Majority Leader. What I respected about these two is that they worked closely with Scott Matheson, the Democratic Governor, and did what was right for the state. It was a golden era.
After Jim Hansen’s election to Congress, the Republicans made Norm Speaker. I dealt with many great Speakers, a couple not so great, but without question, Norm was the best I personally ever dealt with. During this time, it was the tradition of the House that a Speaker serve only one term and leave the body, but future Speakers Garff, Karas, Brown, Bishop and others wanted Norm to be Governor and elected him to an unprecedented second term. Up until this time, this had only happened one other time in the history of the state.
I became close to Norm and he asked me to run his Campaign for Governor in 1984. At the time, it was not certain whether popular Governor Scott Matheson would run again or not. Norm announced and Scott announced a week later that he was not running. Norm used to tease that once Matheson heard that he was running he got out of the race. This was not the case, but it was a fun jest.
The race for the Republican nomination was tough. Bob Wright, who came close to beating Matheson in 1980 was running, Dan Marriott, a popular Republican Congressman from Utah decided to run as well as respected Utah State Senator Karl Snow. And yes, there was a gadfly in the race, former Salt Lake County Republican Chair Laura Ferguson. Norm and Colleen worked hard.
They spent an entire year on the road. We arranged for Republican House members, who all but a couple of RINOs, were not only supporting Norm but they agreed to hold meetings in their homes for all of the friends and former delegates. What was amazing, is that even though Karl Snow was a most effective State Senator, the majority of Utah State Senators endorsed Norm and worked hard holding events for him in their homes.
It was a real grassroots effort aided by the late great Julie Orchard; Judy Schiffman, Norm and Colleen’s neighbor who later served as Colleen’s Assistant and took care of Colleen when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and subsequently married Norm after Colleen’s death. There was then State Senator Paul Rogers who was a fundraising whiz, Dave Buhler, who took a leave from Senator Hatch’s Office, L.J. Godfrey, Rick Evans, Taz Biesinger and so many others.
After coming in first in the State Republican Convention, we decided to do the unconventional and put what few resources we had into media hoping that when the first Dan Jones Poll came out that we would be within striking distance of Dan Marriott if not ahead. Dan was a good man, but we felt that there was not strong support for him. Our assumption was correct, and when Dan’s first KSL-Deseret News Poll came out we were ahead. The money was tight, but after that poll it started coming in and we went on to beat Dan Marriott and Karl Snow in the Republican Primary and handily defeated former Congressman Wayne Owens in November to make Norm the first Republican Governor in Utah in 20 years.
1984 was a unique time, for it was the first time that a Governor and Lt. Governor ran in tandem. Prior to that time, there was initially just a Secretary of State who later became Lt. Governor Secretary of State. It was an amazing process for finding a candidate. In the end, it came down to two great guys, former Senator Doug Bischof who led the Reagan efforts in Utah and an talented young State Auditor from Orem named Val Oveson. In the end, Val was chosen, and he was an awesome Lt. Governor.
There are many stories I could tell, but I will spare you. You all know about Kennecott shutting down along with Geneva Steel just weeks before Norm was inaugurated. You know about the floods, the pumps, and his leadership to save education. The repudiation by the U.E.A., the race with Ted Wilson and Merrill Cook. In the end, after being 30 points behind, we won 41, 38 for Wilson, and 22 for Cook. But what you don’t know is that Norm was a good decent human being who never did anything wrong. There is not an off color joke, story, or any inappropriate behavior with respect to anyone. He was a problem solver who never started life out thinking he would be Governor. His natural talents and abilities continued to open doors and opportunities for him.
One can not talk about Norm and his legacy without thinking about all of the people that he brought into state government, Dave Adams, Dave Grant, Kirk Green, Dave Johnson, Julie Orchard, Judy Schiffman, Steve Mecham, Francine Giani, Dave Buhler, John T. Nielsen, Bud Scruggs, Carol Nixon, Bonnie Stevens, Ed Leary, Alice Shearer, Leigh Vonderesch and oh so many more. Their legacy, like his is one of true public service and behaving in a manner that public servants should.
Norm, I will miss you, but you taught me many things. You were a true friend and mentor and may your reunion with Colleen be a sweet one. Thanks for being who you were, a humble carpenter from Granger, Utah, who served this state well.