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Retirement, political intrigue

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It's difficult to assess which news event triggered more political intrigue this week — Rep. Jim Hansen's decision to retire or the political maneuvering triggered by his announcement. Both are worthy of comment.

First, Rep. Jim Hansen.

Hansen surprised even his own staff by announcing he would retire from the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of 2002. At the conclusion of his current term of office, Hansen will have served 22 years in the House. He is currently chairman of the House Resources Committee and is the first Utahn to serve as House committee chairman. In addition, Hansen served eight years in the Utah Legislature — two as speaker of the House — and 12 years on the Farmington City Council.

Hansen has served in elected office more than four decades, during which he encountered many champions and foes, in particular environmentalists who warred against his unwavering support of traditional land use in the West.

In an Associated Press report of Hansen's retirement he remarked, half-joking, "I hope they're dancing in the streets," he said of environmentalists. "I've saved the environment from the environmentalists."

Although he has been frequently at odds with the environmental community during his long tenure in Congress, he was sponsor of the 1984 Utah Wilderness Act, which created wilderness in U.S. forest area.

Hansen is perhaps best known as a staunch defender of Hill Air Force Base, laboring on many occasions to protect it from closure. He considers two other issues significant congressional victories: backing legislation that lifted the national speed limit from 55 mph and helping to pass President Bush's energy bill this past year.

Certainly, people in Hansen's respective congressional, legislative and city council districts owe him a great debt of gratitude for his many years of public service. This page joins them in saying thank you and wishing him well in retirement.

With respect to the reaction to Hansen's retirement announcement, it's not too much of an overstatement that the news triggered a political frenzy not seen in Utah in recent years.

Hansen's stated reasons for his decision to retire were to spend more time with his family and recent health issues. Another reason was his displeasure over the Utah Legislature's redrawing of his district boundaries to include 52 percent of the population of Salt Lake City. To hear Hansen tell it, the redistricting would hurt Republican chances more in the newly drawn district than those of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, whose 2nd Congressional District will encompass part of Salt Lake and much of rural Utah.

Hansen's retirement and the redistricting opens up a host of possibilities for present and former Republican legislative leaders but more notably Democrats, who haven't won in the 1st Congressional District since 1978.

Frankly, the race for this newly configured district will be fascinating as Republicans and Democrats jockey for their respective party's ticket, not to mention the national implications of the race considering the slim, 10-seat majority Republicans hold in the House of Representatives.

Indeed, Hansen's retirement is noteworthy on a number of levels. Again, we wish him the best and trust that his successor will likewise serve the people of the 1st Congressional District honorably and well.