Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, has never exactly been a typical politician.
For example:-- His tongue would probably snap off if he tried to tell a lie or deceive -- actions totally against his nature. That comes in handy for reporters checking out other spoliticians' tales. Some even call him the delegation's "one-man truth squad."
-- He doesn't provide many snappy quotes and often seems uncomfortable in front of the press. But he can give a wealth of information about even minute details of legislation or government operations -- no matter how obscure.
-- He shows up to committee hearings early (a true rarity in Washington). He also stays long to pore over even the driest testimony. He also spends long hours on the House floor agreeing to perform routine tasks for party leadership after most other members have left for the day. He is a workhorse.
-- He is a statistician and former college professor. Most members of Congress are lawyers or professional politicians. Nielson lacks their polish in debate, but he tend sto see Congress more through the eyes of an everyday citizen -- and has a mastery and interest in its details that they do not.
In an era that often rewards style more than substance, Nielson has been an aberration -- a welcome one.
But he announced last week that he will not seek a fifth term in the 3rd District. He almost surely could have won, being the incumbent in what is considered the nation's most Republican district.
But Nielson, 65, said he would rather begin a happy retirement of traveling, spending more time with his family and serving a church mission.
Nielson has been a nice guy who didn't finish last -- except in some pesky surveys every year that tried to determine who is the most popular politician in the state.
Nielson always came in dead last -- probably because his legislative style often doesn't make for fascinating reading ro headlines, and many people polled likely just didn't know much about him.
He spends most of his time ironing out details of important-but-sometimes-boring bills with topics such as clean air or telecommunications. Much of his time is spent on the Government Operations Committee, which reviews how well various government agencies function and does not consider legislation.
Meanwhile, other members of Congress make fiery speeches about the emotional topics of the day.
So stories about Nielson's work tend to be buried behind flashier news. That doesn't bring much name recognition by those surveyed or high approval ratings.
All it did for Nielson was help him easily quash any and all opponents every election year. Probably no House member from Utah has ever consistently received such wide margins of citroy at the polls.
Maybe the folks in the 3rd District aren't so interested in fancy politickin' as they are in being shown some results for their area.
Nielson has done that.
He has worked on helping Kennecott and Geneva reopen and had major involvement in clean air law affecting them.
He has worked hard for funding of the Central Utah Project. But beyond just giving it a blank check, he has forced it through the years to answer some tough questions about whether it is as efficient as possible.
He helped persuade the Environmental Protection Agency that >Prospector Square in Park City was not contaminated.
He helped improve rural and Indian health care, which doesn't get much attention.
He waged what for a long time was a one-man fight against Amtrak for dumping raw sewage from its cars.
He also has the distinction of having held at least one town meeting in every town in his district -- no matter how small.
As Nielson heads into his final year as a congressman, he has vowed not to act like a lame duck and to keep busy. No one would expect anything less based on his record -- a record that shows flashiness isn't always needed to win in politics.