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Jan Graham: A private person in a public life

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JAN GRAHAM won't run again. Two terms as attorney general are enough. Back in 1993, during the first weeks of her first term, she was telling people she'd only do this for eight years. She promised herself and her husband, Buzz Hunt. She promised her brand new baby, Willie, and her teenage stepdaughter, Liz.

At the time, it was an easy promise. But there was something Graham didn't count on: She loves this job more every day.She is making a difference in the lives of children, helping to end violence in Utah families. There is still much to be done, of course. She wakes up at night thinking about children being afraid. She finds herself figuring out a script for another video, planning a way to reach even more families.

Fighting domestic violence, coming up with new programs and seeing them at work in the community, Graham feels the power of the office.

Effectiveness can be addicting. So sometimes she finds herself thinking maybe she should run for a different office. Federal office. "Every once in awhile someone approaches me, and then my husband and I talk about it for maybe 10 minutes." The only reason she'd consider running for anything, she says, is that she's a Democrat who worries about the death of Utah's two-party system.

And yet. To run again? She looks at the newspaper and she sees pictures of politicians tossing their children in the air and she wonders how they can stand it, living their private lives in public, exposing their children to the world.

Here's something else she didn't count on: Being a public person gets harder every day. She's recognized wherever she goes. She can't push a cart down a grocery aisle without strangers coming up to chat. "I take Willie to the park, and it turns into a public glad-handing event."

She knows it doesn't bother other politicians. She mentions Gov. Mike Leavitt several times.

And yet, sometimes Graham does seem to enjoy talking about her family, sharing details of their lives. She especially likes talking to children about the people she loves and asking them about the people they love.

On this day Graham is at Lone Peak Elementary in Sandy, where she is being honored at the Hero Assembly. There was another hero that was supposed to be on the stand along with her. Mr. Baxter from Albertsons regularly gives the kids tours of the store. Today, unfortunately, Mr. Baxter had two checkers call in sick and he had to man the registers, and "that's the way it is in the business world," the PTA president explains.

So it's just Attorney General Jan Graham and a lunchroom full of children. She proves herself equal to the task of entertaining them for a half-hour on the subject of heroes. She starts by grabbing the microphone, hopping off the stage and putting her arm around one child after another as she asks, "Who are the heroes in your lives?"

They mention their parents, a teacher, an older cousin. The attorney general tells the children she has two heroes. The first is her husband, Buzz, who works so hard (he's the marketing director at the Salt Lake airport), and no matter how tired he is he finds time to read to Willie every night. He is also her hero because he puts up with being married to the attorney general, she says.

By way of explaining why marriage to an elected official can be kind of a drag sometimes, Graham says Buzz occasionally calls her the Eternal General.

Her other hero is someone she hasn't seen for 30 years but is a woman Graham thinks of every day. She asks the children to guess who that person is. It takes them awhile to come up with "your grandma."

Graham's grandmother Julia Crump had 27 grandchildren but managed to make Jan feel unique and loved. Grandmother Crump didn't have time to sit and talk. Jan got to know her by following her around while she worked on her chicken farm. She helped her grandmother wash eggs, clean the house, work in the yard. Her grandmother always told her she could get anything she wanted out of life if she were willing to work and work and work some more.

If you were to follow Graham around for a week or so this summer, you'd see her working hard. Her main project right now is litigation against the tobacco companies. Utah is one of 31 states suing tobacco companies to recover state funds spent on Medicaid for people with lung diseases and cancer.

She talks to state legislators and state health officials and makes several trips to meet with other attorneys general. She explains how the cigarette manufacturers seem willing to settle out of court, pay restitution to the states (they'll get the money by raising the price of cigarettes) and reform their business practices, including allowing nicotine to be regulated as an addictive drug and stopping the marketing of tobacco to minors.

But even when she's invited to talk about tobacco or about her heroes or about some other issue, Graham always tries to work the topic of family violence into the speech.

At a meeting of public health officials, she mentions her seven-part Safe At Home program. That includes family violence workshops, which have now been presented by volunteers to about 45,000 Utahns, at churches and offices throughout the state. "Not My Kid" teaches parents about keeping children out of gangs. The dating violence prevention program offers high schools a choice of videos - one that mentions sexual coercion and one that doesn't.

Graham is especially proud of the seven new Children's Justice Centers (home-like facilities where children who have been abused can feel safe talking to police and prosecutors) and about the legislation she introduced - the first in the country, she believes - to make it a separate crime to traumatize children by abusing their parent in front of them.

At the Hero Assembly, Graham doesn't come right out and talk about family violence. But she does manage to work into her talk a mention of the fact that no family is perfect and every family has problems, and problems are nothing to be ashamed of. She just plants the little seed: We can talk about our families.

Here's the irony: If anyone knows how it feels to want to protect family privacy, it is Jan Graham. She calls herself the most private public figure in the state. She talks about the irony when she explains that one of the things she wanted to do when she ran for office was to give girls a role model. Being a role model in a way implies being an accessible person. Often, she is.

Graham does things like approaching sixth-graders, after the Hero Assembly, to encourage them to run for office. In the process she singles out the girls, especially, telling them they need to run for the Legislature because it is only 14 percent female, and the population of the state is 52 percent female.

So on one level she can understand why people seek her out. She was the first woman ever elected to statewide office in Utah's history (Lt. Gov. Olene Walker shared the ticket with Leavitt the same year). And on one level, she doesn't mind if people know some details of her life: That she and Buzz were high school sweethearts. He was the editor of the school paper at South High. She was the feature editor. They went to graduation together. He was the first boy she ever kissed.

They went to different colleges. They both married other people. (Which is where she got the name Graham, and that's about as far as she likes to go in talking about that first marriage.) She and Buzz Hunt married in 1989. They are happy together; she doesn't mind saying that. They are looking forward to their 30th high school reunion this summer.

Here's another irony: She tries to protect Willie from too much exposure, but Willie loves the public. At the State Democratic Convention last month he hammed around on stage while waiting a turn at the microphone, a chance to say, "Hello EVERYBODY!"

This is something his mother would have never done when she was 5. When she was young, she says, she was the shyest person who ever lived.

Graham confides in the children who see her as a hero, "When I was a little girl I was very afraid to go out of the house." She felt safe at home and nowhere else.

Janet Ann Crump's family lived in Sugar House. Their home was next to a dry cleaner's. There was a gum machine right inside the door of the business. Sometimes her father would give her a penny and she'd scamper outside and then the dilemma would begin. She would hide in the bushes at the corner of her yard, waiting and watching for an hour sometimes, until she could be sure there were no customers in the store and no customers about to walk into the store.

One day her grandmother observed her crouching in the corner of the yard. Her grandmother said, "Young lady, you've got as much right to go in that dry cleaner's as anyone else in the world. Now you just march right over there and buy your gum." So Jan marched.

And now she tells the children they have as much right to happiness as anyone else. They have every right to take charge of their own futures. It's an empowering message.

She's not quite sure about what she'll be doing for her own future. She will always be an advocate for children, she says. Whether she does it for a living or works at something else and volunteers in her spare time, this is what she hasn't decided. Right now she's waiting and watching. You get the feeling, though, that when she decides where she wants to go next, Jan Graham will just march right in there.