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BANGERTER TACKLES TAX ISSUE HEAD ON

If Gov. Norm Bangerter's ancestors had a family motto or crest, undoubtedly the bulldog would have to be part of it.

A kindly bulldog, loyal and easy going. But one that digs in its heels and is stubborn whenever challenged.Simply put, Bangerter doesn't back down, not from a campaign, not from an issue, not from a critic.

Take the Salt Lake County GOP Convention last week. Bangerter knew that some delegates - perhaps coaxed a bit by former tax protesters who still haunt the halls of Republicanism - would be in favor of removing the sales tax from food.

It was one of the first county conventions the governor attended since coming out the week before against the food tax removal - which will be on November's ballot.

Bangerter, who has been visiting all Republican county conventions this year, could have taken the easy route. At the Salt Lake convention he could have slammed Wayne Owens and other Democrats, talked about Republican idealism and so on.

He didn't.

He talked about the food tax - knowing that it would be controversial.

It was. While some cheered the governor, some also booed.

Bangerter forged on, giving a well-reasoned and good speech defending his arguments why the state shouldn't cut revenue by $90 million.

Other speakers, some of whom were counting on county delegates voting for them in the convention, didn't even address the issue.

And the state Republican Party - predicts Chairman Richard Snelgrove - in its convention next week won't address the food tax at all. The platform probably won't even mention it.

But Bangerter did.

"I won't shrink from telling it like it is," he said.

For that, Bangerter should be admired.

But the convention probably left a bit of a bad taste in his mouth. The governor has been well-received at all GOP county conventions so far, I'm told. It was Bangerter's idea to go to the conventions. It certainly wasn't required of an incumbent not facing re-election this year.

In fact, both Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who also don't face re-election this year, missed the Salt Lake County GOP Convention altogether.

Bangerter hasn't decided - or at least hasn't announced - what he'll do in 1992, the end of his second, four-year term. Traditionally, governors serve only two terms in Utah, although there's no law prohibiting a third term, and former Democratic Gov. Calvin Rampton did serve 12 years.

So, the odds are that Bangerter will retire from the governorship at the end of 1992.

If that's the case, his "grand tour" of county conventions, as some have called it, makes sense.

Next year, party conventions will deal only with the election of county and state party officials. Usually, those affairs are not well-attended by delegates.

Whether Bangerter runs again or not, 1992 will bring a whole host of candidates for state and federal offices hogging the stage. (If Bangerter runs, there may not be a credible Republican to oppose him.)

Thus, some see Bangerter's tour of the county conventions this year as an opportunity for him to stand a moment in the spotlight uncontested, thank his loyal supporters and converse with old friends who may be absent from the 1991 conventions or preoccupied with hectic candidate conventioneering in 1992.

And - although his aides say this isn't the case - it is also a time for the governor to feel better about Republican Party workers and they to feel better about him. To close the book, if you will, on the raucous 1988 campaign and tax protest movement that rattled Republican loyalties.

Bangerter was well-received by Salt Lake County GOP delegates last Saturday, getting a standing ovation after his introduction. He could have talked about anything. But he chose to take the sales tax off food head on.

The bulldog in him couldn't resist it.