Mel Brown, looking very much the dairyman in his new blue overalls, walks on frozen cow poop and waxes philosophical about state politics. Sometimes his slow speech turns to milk production, cream content and one-ton hay balers.
The numbing cold on his 700-cow dairy operation in Coalville doesn't bother him. "This is a nice day, the sun's a-shining. It's usually colder than this," he says. At least it isn't warmer, or the frozen green stuff Brown ambles over would be considerably less hospitable.Brown, 56, is the new speaker of the Utah House. This Jan. 16 he'll gavel the 75-member body to order for the 45-day annual session and reign over an enlarged 55-member Republican majority caucus that will help set a $4.9 billion budget and vote on approximately 1,000 bills and resolutions.
Five generations of Browns have grown up in and around Coalville. "This was my grandfather's and father's operation before," he says, pointing out over the herds of black and white Holsteins, the dairy, trucks, tractors and out-buildings.
Summit Valley Milk, a private corporation held by Brown and his two brothers, is the largest integrated producer/manager operation in Utah. Brown and his younger brother, Glen, raise the cows, produce the milk, bottle it and truck it to local grocery stores for sale. The Brown's oldest brother doesn't work on the farm, but one of Mel's three sons does, keeping the family tradition alive. He takes over when Mel has to spend 45-days on Capitol Hill.
"It's a family operation, always has been. You learn a lot about cooperation and working together in such operations," Mel says - not adding, but implying - that legislators would do well to learn such lessons themselves.
While Mel was raised on the dairy farm, he didn't chose it as a profession. He went off to Brigham Young University in the late 1950s to play football. "In those days you played both ways, and I was a defensive and offensive end." But he ended up graduating from Utah State University with an education degree - taking a year off to build the original fences on the large dairy farm in 1959.
After graduation from USU, he married a local girl and went off to Craig, Colo., to teach high school and coach football and basketball. Ten years later his father fell ill. "It was time to go home to be closer to the family business." But not time to give up teaching, yet.
Brown moved to Midvale and taught and coached at Murray High School. He commuted to the Coalville dairy when needed, especially in the summer. When his father died in the early 1970s Brown gave up teaching and started working on the farm full time.
"Mel almost moved up here (to Coalville) a couple of times," grins younger brother Glen - who himself served a decade in the Utah Legislature and was picked as House speaker the year Mel won his Midvale seat, in 1986. "But Mel kept getting (LDS) church assignments, first as bishop then as stake president, so he couldn't leave. Then he got elected (to the House) and of course couldn't move then," says Glen.
So its been a long commute for Mel for 15 years - up to Coalville and back each day. "It's not so bad. I've got a mobile phone (in his new diesel Ram pickup) so I call people back during the drive. Heck, from my Midvale home to here isn't any longer than driving (from his home) to the Capitol at rush hour."
Glen owns the majority share in the dairy operation - he's worked the farm his whole life. And Glen was in the House and speaker before Mel. Does that mean Mel does what his little brother tells him?
A hoarse laugh from Mel. "Now what do you think? Really, we get along pretty good." Glen says Mel is in charge of feeding their three dairy herds "his own special feed mix" on Tuesdays and Thursdays and handles much of the growing of feed grains on Mel's own nearby farm in the spring and summer.
While Mel's livelihood is milk cows, his joy is horses. Really big horses.
Rex and Duke are 5- and 4-year-old Belgian draft horses, brothers, who with only a little training, but a lot of beef, won second-place for Mel at the 1994 Utah State Fair's draft-pulling contest. "They can pull 10,000 or 11,000 pounds of dead weight.
"Rex has been gaining some weight over the winter, eating a lot. I figure he's about 2,500 pounds now," says Mel, who controls the huge animals with soft voice commands and a slight pull on their halters. "Their trailer's roof is 7 foot 6 inches, and if they pull their heads up straight they hit it. They're big boys, aren't they?"
Pulling dead weight and giving soft voice commands will serve Mel well as speaker, especially in the sometimes disorganized House GOP caucus.