Nov 27 2018
Mr. President, earlier this month Utah lost one of our finest: former Congressman Jim Hansen – a great leader, a great husband and father, and a great friend. And it is my privilege to honor his life today.
To speak of Jim Hansen’s life is to speak of public service. This phrase is often used to describe government employment, but in the case of Jim Hansen, it could not be more fitting. In whatever role he was in – and in every aspect of his life – Jim faithfully served.
Jim’s rule for getting involved in politics was “get involved because you have a cause, not because you want a job.” In fact, his motivation to first run for local office was to improve the water system in Farmington, Utah, where the water supply was sometimes dirty or even nonexistent.
Though he’d only lived in Farmington a few years, Jim was elected to the Farmington City Council in 1961 and oversaw the installation of a new utility system – no small feat in this small town – which allowed the community to grow and flourish. Thus began his 42 years in public office.
After serving on the city council for 12 years, Jim was elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 1973, rising to the position of House Speaker during his last term.
It was then that Jim launched his congressional bid for Utah’s 1st District, defeating the five-term incumbent Gunn McKay in 1980. He got right to work representing the citizens of Utah, this time at the federal level.
Among his proudest accomplishments were serving on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Jim took great pride in helping save Hill Air Force Base, in Northern Utah, from closure. Whenever he’d hear a jet roaring overhead at a decibel loud enough to break the windows, he would tell his children, “That’s the sound of freedom. You’re lucky to hear and live under that every day.”
A great lover of the outdoors, so too was he proud of “saving the environment from the environmentalists,” as he would say. Jim often sparred with them about wilderness issues and championed multiple use policies for public lands, though he was also a sponsor of the 1984 Utah Wilderness Act that designated wilderness in U.S. Forest areas.
Ever a staunch Republican – and ever a man of humor – he delighted in reciting his own version of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will vote Republican.”
But Jim was always known for being able to work across the aisle, and was well-respected by his Democratic colleagues. He served as Chairman of the House Ethics Committee during a partisan crisis among its members over the investigation into former speaker Newt Gingrich; and both parties at the time trusted him to handle any investigations fairly and impartially.
For 22 years he tirelessly served the 1st District of Utah in the House of Representatives, becoming Utah’s longest-serving Congressman. After he announced his retirement in 2002, still at the top of his game, he said in an interview that he wanted to leave behind a legacy of hard work. And indeed Jim Hansen did.
Not only was Jim hardworking, but he was also immensely generous; he did not keep his success for himself, but for years offered mentorship to anyone seeking to navigate the political waters.
I myself was lucky enough to call Jim a mentor and a friend. When I first considered running for the Senate in 2010, he met with me at length and gave me helpful advice and encouragement. Even though I was a newcomer with very little chance of success, he couldn’t have been more generous with his time and wisdom. When I announced my candidacy, he stood by me and offered his full endorsement.
And so many others were also blessed by Jim’s friendship and loyalty.
A lesser-known story that illustrates the quality of his character involves his longtime friend Norm Bangerter, with whom he served in the state Legislature. In 1978, both men had their sights set on the House speaker post, but didn’t want to run against each other. So they made a deal that Norm would step aside, so long as Jim agreed to step aside in the future if they were ever interested in the same position again.
Now Jim hoped to become governor of Utah. In the 1980s, after Jim had been serving in the House for a few years, there was an opening for a Republican to take back the governorship, and everyone expected Jim to make a play for it.
Except Norm wanted to run. So what did Jim do? He stepped aside, allowing his friend to run for and eventually win the position.
That was the caliber of Jim Hansen’s character. He was a man of humility and integrity, who always put others before himself.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention Jim’s piety, in the truest sense of the word. In addition to having a deep loyalty to his country and state, he had a deep loyalty to his family and his church.
Jim married Ann Burgoyne in 1958, which he considered to be the smartest decision he ever made. Their family grew to include five children, and eventually 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. “Grandpa Jim” was the center of their family, and his love for them animated so much of his life.
His grandchildren fondly remember his jokes, stories, and a zest for life. His granddaughter Anna recounted that on his 80th birthday, when he insisted on going water-skiing, he had waded into the lake wearing his slacks and socks, with his grandchildren sloshing behind him to fish out the Chapstick tubes and Tic-Tac packs that were floating out of his pockets. But that was Jim Hansen, full of life and spirit until the end.
Before his involvement in politics, and after he served in the Navy during the Korean War, Jim went on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years. He also served as bishop of the Farmington 2nd Ward and president of the Davis Stake. One of his jobs as bishop was to supervise construction of the Farmington South Stake Center – where loved ones and dignitaries gathered to honor his life this past week.
It is only fitting that we pay tribute to this honorable man, who so faithfully served God, family, and country throughout his whole life.
Jim Hansen will be sorely missed by his family, friends, Utahns, and all those whose lives were touched by him; but I have no doubt that his legacy will live on for years to come.
I yield the floor.
As prepared for delivery