A visitor to the Farmington campaign headquarters of Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, last summer parked his car in the dirt driveway and walked into the rustic one-story building. He barely noticed a workman mowing the lawn under the hot August sun.
The visitor collected a few campaign brochures and asked the secretary - the only person there - about possible debates between Hansen and his opponent, Democrat Greg Sanders. She didn't know the answer."Why don't you ask the congressman?" she suggested. "He's outside."
Sure enough, the sweating laborer was none other than Hansen himself.
"I'm a putterer," said the 64-year-old man. "I do this to relax."
Hansen's family and friends invariably agree on that point. After a week of legislative maneuvering Hansen likes nothing more than to come home and go to work in the yard, tinker under the hood, or repair cupboards or toilets.
Whenever Hansen visited his daughter, Susan Callister, while she was living in California, at his request she always had a list of things ready for him to trim, mow, paint, adjust, glue, repair, replace, nail, splice, refit or plug.
"He's good at fixing things," she said.
It was a desire to fix Farmington's water system that first got Hansen into politics in 1968. Seventeen elections later - City Council, state Legislature, state House speaker and finally Congress - he has not lost a single election. This year he's going for a state record ninth term in the House of Rep-re-sen-ta-tives.
"I don't know how much longer people think they can handle me," he said.
Hansen was born in Salt Lake City. He attended the University of Utah, fulfilling requirements for a bachelor's degree between stints in the Navy (Korean War) and a mission for the LDS Church. He married Ann Burgoyne in 1957 and moved to Farmington shortly afterward, where he has lived ever since. He was in the insurance and land development business before politics took over his life full time.
Hansen's family remembers him always being involved in something, be it politics or church callings or both.
"He was actually gone a good share of the time," said his son Joe Hansen, who now serves as his father's campaign manager.
In Hansen's free time he would invariably take his children to the mountains to hike, hunt or fish, or to a lake to boat. The family rarely went to touristy destinations like Disneyland on their vacations - it was always somewhere in nature.
"We did get out in the outdoors quite a bit," Joe Hansen said.
It's ironic, Hansen's friends say, that environmentalists should consider him public enemy No. 1 (he has been called that more than once) given his love for the outdoors.
"The guy I see in the media, that's not the guy I know," said Howard Rigtrup, deputy director of the state Department of Natural Resources, a one-time aide and longtime friend of Hansen's. "I see him very much as an en-vi-ron-men-talist."
Hansen's pro-ranching and mining stands come from a personal desire to use land in a balanced and moderate way, Rigtrup said, but since the reasoned environmental dialectic has degenerated into a choice between extremes, moderation is nigh unto impossible now.
Whatever Hansen's political views on the environment, "moderate" is not a word one would use to describe his penchant for fish stories. One day when he and Rigtrup were trolling on Flaming Gorge, Hansen laid his pole on the bottom of the boat. When something grabbed the lure and the pole flew into the water, Hansen was immediately convinced the biggest fish in the lake had taken it.
After some searching, the two companions found the lure hooked to . . . a log.
"Nobody was more relieved than I was to get that pole back, because you know that fish would have gotten bigger and bigger," Rigtrup said.
Hansen uses his forays from civilization to unwind and recharge. The man by the fire or on the lake is quite different from the one people see before the cameras.
"He's a mix," Rigtrup said. "Politically, he's an extrovert. Personally, he's an introvert. . . . In backpacking and fishing he's generally very quiet."
Nevertheless, there's no question that Hansen has the gift of gab. Even around the dinner table at home (raw rhubarb is a favorite), he will often talk politics with the children or quiz them on church history, one of his favorite reading subjects.
Hansen admits to his loquaciousness, and even makes fun of it. "He always says he's full of hot air," Callister said.
That air comes in handy for Hansen while blowing out his birthday candles (he prides himself on extinguishing them in a single breath), but even he doesn't always feel up to the task. Two years ago, for example, the number of candles on the cake looked pretty daunting.
Not one to risk defeat, Hansen went to the garage and enlisted the help of his leaf blower. Mission accomplished with air to spare.
Even more than other politicians, a class accustomed to receiving slings and arrows, Hansen often endures bruising attacks. He doesn't pull punches with his political opinions, and his enemies likewise don't pull punches regarding what they think of him.
"It was tough (at first)," Callister said. "But I think over the years you almost get immune to it."
Perhaps for that reason, Hansen likes to have people around him he knows he can trust. Joe Hansen didn't particularly want to be his father's campaign manager, but the elder Hansen felt strongly about it.
"I don't know if I decided so much as he wanted me to do it," Joe said.
In the current campaign, Democrat Sanders has said he wants to heal political relationships sundered by Hansen's confrontational style. He has accused Hansen of "screaming and slamming doors" while trying to get his way, something Hansen flatly denies ever doing. His staff got such a kick out of Sanders' comment they put up a sign in his offices:
"Scream and slam a door," it says. "You'll feel better."
A profile of Democrat Greg Sanders was published Monday.