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A large percentage of Utahns call themselves "conservatives" - but how do they define the word? After nearly a year of campaigning for governor, visiting all of Utah's 400 towns and listening to thousands of citizens, let me suggest a definition.

Utahns do not think conservative means slow or stodgy or resistant to change. In fact, conservative Utahns are anxious for changes and shake ups - particularly in the political establishment, in education and in the area of special interests and lobbyist influence.Utahns describe conservative as downsizing government, reducing taxes, eliminating regulations and giving individuals and business more freedom from "Big Brother" influence. They also define conservative as strong resistance to the arrogance of the ACLU, the feds, radical environmentalists and public sector unions like the UEA.

Ironically then, in Utah, conservative means change - change to the right, change away from big government and tax and spend solutions, change from the old boy network, from business-as-usual government and change from the political establishment.

And the conservative change is happening. It started at the Republican state convention in June.

State conventions are normally the bastions of bureaucracy, the lair of lobbyists and legislators and the status quo safeguard of special interests. The 2,500 delegates are often under the influence of current officeholders. The old boy network usually prevails. The "anointed" candidates usually emerge.

All that changed this year. There were more first time delegates than ever before, and they came with and accomplished their intention of "out with the old, in with the new."

The Utah speaker of the House finished a poor third in his race, national delegates got elected who were not part of the "official slate" and in the governor's race, the outside citizen candidate beat the heavily endorsed choice of much of the establishment.

Why did it happen? How did it happen? Two answers: People truly, deeply and genuinely want a change; strong preconvention grassroots organizing broomed out lots of old establishment delegates and replaced them with new, independent-minded delegates who were more interested in issues and qualifications than in endorsements.

The bottom line is that first-time delegates as well as other dissatisfied delegates represented the citizens of Utah and sent a message.

The message is: "It's time for something new . . . we deserve to expect more from the future than the past . . . we want a new generation of leadership."

In the convnetion voting, the old timers lost, the new timers won.

Utahns still respect the old. Jake Garn and Norm Bangerter went out with respect. The old is not bad, it is just old. It is the past. It is a little stale and people are ready for something fresh.

Since his loss at the convention, Mike Leavitt has continued to rely heavily on establishment endorsements and on support from current office holders and interests that see him as the "safe" candidate in terms of protecting the status quo.

Some were a bit frantic at having lost in their home-court convention. To catch up, there has been a lot of image- building advertising and more establishment endorsements - by the retiring senator and governor - which surprised no one.

By now they have made it clear who is the choice of the politicians and who is the choice of the citizens.

A year ago, when Leavitt announced his candidacy, he said he did not yet have positions on many of the issues but would develop and release them as the campaign went along. To date he has released only two position papers - and one of them is the expensive state strategic plan for education.

For our part, we have continued to rely on personal qualifications, clear stands on issues and solid grassroots citizen organization.

Thousands of neighborhood volunteers are in place. Most are "new players" who have never been involved in politics before. Also, since we accept no money from PACs or special interests, the majority of our financial contributions are from small donors who have never made a political contribution before.

Many local and national leaders from business and politics have endorsed my ideas and approaches (particularly in my book), but I have been more interested in their help and input than their "endorsement."

I have been especially careful not to seek legislative endorsements because I believe in separation of powers - that the executive and legislative branches must be independent of each other.

Positive change will come not through backroom collusion but through a governor and legislature that respect each other and communicate well as they perform their separate roles.

The results of the primary will turn on one question: "Do Utahns want a continuation of the status quo - same faces, same approaches, four more years - or do they want change, new faces and new leadership? Will the past satisfy us for the future?

This has been a tough campaign. It is difficult to run a citizen campaign against a wealthy millionaire with large financial support from well-established interests. I did not inherit a multimillion-dollar business. But I honestly think 1992 is the year of change, the year of the citizen, the year of alternatives to politics-as-usual and to tax-and-spend government, the year of fresh ideas and newer, better opportunities for Utah.

The change that began in the caucuses and the convention will finish in November.

(Richard Eyre is a Republican candidate for governor of Utah.)