Utah: First District|
Rep. James V. Hansen (R)
Last Updated June 25, 1999
In May 1869, a motley crowd of Irish and Chinese laborers, teamsters, engineers, train crews, officials and guests from California and Salt Lake City gathered in Promontory Point, Utah, to watch the opening of the transcontinental railroad. The Union Pacific train was late and Leland Stanford raised his hammer and totally missed the golden spike, but an alert telegrapher mimicked the sound over the wire and a photographer recorded the scene for posterity: United at last were the civilized East and the mostly untamed West. Here, beyond sight of the snow-capped mountains crossed by the Mormon pioneers, the salt flats still stretch out endlessly; the rail lines now pass north of here, and Promontory Point lies on uninhabited flat land beside the Great Salt Lake. Back in the middle 1980s the lake was rising and threatened to cover the historic site; the state legislature passed a law forbidding it to rise above a certain level and the local county commissioners called for a day of prayer for drought in May 1986; finally, for whatever reason, the lake level fell and the state didn't have to pump water through canals that would have formed a vast new lake in the salt flats to the west.
The 1st Congressional District includes the western half of Utah, from Promontory Point down to the Arizona and Nevada borders near Las Vegas, where the Colorado River flows south through Glen Canyon into Arizona; Zion National Park is in the south, there is mining country in the center and the desert lies west of the lake. But 75% of the people in this district live along the Wasatch Front, a thin strip of land on the east side of the Lake between the salt flats and the Wasatch Mountains. It takes in Brigham City and Logan near the Idaho border, goes south through Ogden, an old working-class town on the Union Pacific line and the nearest station stop to Promontory Point, and then proceeds through a strip of suburbs to the salt flats northwest of downtown Salt Lake City near the airport. The rest of the 1st's voters live in small communities, many entirely Mormon, in central and southern Utah.
The congressman from this district is James Hansen, a Republican first elected in 1980. Hansen grew up in Farmington, Utah, served in the Navy, worked as an insurance agent and head of a land development company. He was elected to the City Council in Farmington, just north of Salt Lake City, and then to the Utah House in 1972, at 40; he was speaker in 1979 and 1980. In 1980 he ran against incumbent Democratic Congressman Gunn McKay and won 52%-48%; except in 1986 and 1990, he has won by wide margins ever since. Hansen, who describes himself as a ''common kid from Utah,'' holds important positions in the House. He is third ranking Republican on the Resources Committee and chairman of the National Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee. He was chairman of the ethics committee in 1997 and 1998, but in 1999 got his wish to be removed. He is on the Armed Services Committee as well.
Hansen has often decried what he considers extremist environmental groups; he called a Sierra Club plan to drain Lake Powell ''ridiculous.'' He worked to complete the Central Utah Project to bring Colorado River water to the Wasatch Front in 1992, and helped crack down on cheap water rates in the Central Valley of California. He favors ''multiple uses'' of public land, including mining, timber, ranching and grazing. He was outraged when Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in September 1996: ''Without any public input, without any consideration under the National Environmental Policy Act and any consultation with Utah's elected officials, President Clinton with one stroke of the pen made a decision that will steal over $1 billion from Utah's school children and end up costing the state of Utah over $6.5 billion.'' In response, he sponsored bills to limit the president's power to create national monuments and to allow the Bureau of Land Management to turn over lands to state governments to manage; he also obtained and made public White House e-mails that showed the administration's dishonesty and campaign gimmickry. The end result was the Utah Land Exchange Act of 1998, which turned over federal lands and cash to Utah in compensation for about half of the national monument lands.
Hansen also worked to produce the national parks law of 1998. His first version was beaten badly, as Clinton threatened a veto and many Republicans opposed it at the behest of environmental groups. Hansen dropped some pet provisions, including the set-aside of the San Rafael Swell canyonlands, and a week later it passed with bipartisan support. The law set up a competitive bidding process for park concessions and kept 80% of concessionaire fees in the local site; it also required a study of whether proposed national parks are worthy of the designation. Other Hansen bills in the 105th Congress included a study of lands east of the 100th parallel for wilderness designation--the same Easterners who support wilderness in the West objected loudly--and a bill to cede to the state of Utah lands surrounding the Goshute Indians' proposed nuclear waste depository so the state could stop shipments. He hammered the National Park Service for leaving Ronald Reagan's name off the George Washington Parkway signs leading to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. He called for revision of the 1969 law setting up the EPA, which he charged ''simply serves as a tool of the bureaucrats to achieve desired results and predetermined decisions regardless of the public's input.'' The Clinton Administration, he said, uses EPA requirements to block projects it opposes but ignores them when they would block projects, like Grand Staircase-Escalante, it favors.
On the Armed Services Committee, he fought successfully to save Hill Air Force Base, Utah's number two employer, from the base closing commission in 1995. He has opposed the Clinton ''privatization in place'' plan designed to keep politically sensitive depot bases open in California and Texas, and has attacked the Pentagon for setting criteria that undercut Hill. ''Hill Air Force Base wouldn't be there if it weren't for me and my staff,'' he said on election night 1998. Hansen is co-chairman of the House Anti-Smoking Caucus. In May 1998 he proposed a tobacco bill with a $1.50 per pack cigarette tax, the provisions sought by former Surgeon General Everett Koop, and with 55% of revenues devoted to lowering the deficit; it did not pass. In July 1998 he came within seven votes of getting the House to eliminate tobacco subsidies. Another Hansen cause: disclosure of the terms of private mortgage insurance, which is required on low-down-payment mortgages but which, as Hansen found out with his Crystal City, Virginia, condominium, is very hard to cancel when the borrower has built up the required equity. Hansen's bill to require disclosure of how to cancel passed the House 421-7 in April 1997; he persuaded Alfonse D'Amato to pilot a similar measure through the Senate, and it became law. ''They picked on the wrong guy,'' Hansen said about his insurers.
In January 1997 Hansen was tapped to be chairman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. ''I've lost out,'' he said. He had already spent 12 years as a member of the committee (from 1980-92) and refers to its basement meeting room as ''the dungeon.'' But he and ranking Democrat Howard Berman, for months the committee's only members, turned it around from the partisan circus it had been in 1996. After a nine-month moratorium on new complaints, Hansen and Berman came forward with recommendations for reforms. The House accepted this revision in December 1997, including a ban on complaints from non-members. In January 1999 Speaker Dennis Hastert asked Hansen to serve another term. ''I told him I served on the committee 12 years before plus the last two years as its chairman. I've paid my debt to society, and it's time to be paroled.'' His last effort was to repeal the near-total gift ban passed by his former Utah colleague Enid Greene Waldholtz; instead the House voted Senate rules, banning gifts worth more than $50 and more than $100 a year from a single source.
Hansen's energetic Democratic opponent in 1998 spent $178,000 of his own money and, in total, exactly $250 more than the incumbent. It didn't change the result much. Hansen won by the same 68%-30% margin as in 1996.
Safe. In his 19-year tenure, Hansen has had only a handful of close races and is safely settled in this heavily Republican district.
- Pop. 1990: 574,205
- 15.7% rural;
9.8% age 65+;
- 94.4% White,
0.9% Amer. Indian,
4.6% Hispanic origin;
68.2% married couple families;
40.1% married couple fams. w. children;
57.1% college educ.;
median household income: $30,563;
per capita income: $10,856;
median gross rent: $293;
median house value: $69,000.
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