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Compassion helps Babka as cop, dad, political candidate

Compassion helps Babka as cop, dad, political candidate

SHARE Compassion helps Babka as cop, dad, political candidate

PLEASANT GROVE — The neighbor's boat parked in front of his house sorely tempted 5-year-old Beau Babka.

He finally climbed inside to play, prompting his father to erupt, grab the boy and throw him through the air.

Olympic silver medal-winner Rink Babka, a former world-record holder and one of the first men to throw a discus more than 200 feet, became the first and only man to throw Beau Babka 15 feet.

Eventually, little Beau became a massive football player and a police captain. But as he grew, the scar on his right arm from landing on a drain pipe after his father threw him remained, as have others above and below the skin.

But they haven't stopped him from pursuing a desire to make life better for himself, his family and others. And it's that desire, in part, that prompted him to challenge incumbent Republican Chris Cannon to represent Utah's 3rd Congressional District.

Polls indicate Babka is, however, trailing in the polls. The most recent Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV survey shows him 28 points behind. But it wouldn't be the first time Babka has been beaten, and it doesn't discourage him. He's survived and overcome worse odds.

"I remember getting beaten to a pulp, till I was 13 or 14 and my parents split up," he said.

Soon after, the growing son stepped between Dad and Mom and called an end to the physical confrontations. He was on his way to becoming the no-neck, 330-pound lineman who would play for three college football teams and would draw the attention of the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League.

Babka, family and friends say that instead of engendering bitterness or hopelessness, his troubled home life didn't dent the compassion both his parents now say he had from birth. And they believe it made him a better cop and father and an open, honest candidate.

"He's very, very altruistic and has it in his heart and mind that he can make a difference in people's lives," said state Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley.

Babka's first foray into politics was a run against four-term incumbent Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard. Babka no longer is missing a neck and can't approach his old bench press, but he proved a strong candidate. Though badly outspent and losing 55-45 percent, He collected more than 96,000 votes.

As of June campaign finance filings, Cannon, who has served more terms than anyone in the history of the 3rd District — four — had outspent Babka $432,000 to $15,000, in part because of a tough primary race. The congressman and his staff, despite a comfortable lead, remain wary because Babka did so well in Salt Lake County, which makes up nearly half of the voters in the 3rd District.

"I know this race can be won," Babka said. "People believe in this. I'm committed to them. I think the change is in the wind. I think he's vulnerable. Yeah, I'm not a Republican, but that's not going to matter."

Full of contradictions

Babka's wife, Kim, is registered as a Republican and teases Beau about his party affiliation. Before his race against Kennard, she told him, "I'm going out on a limb for you. I've always voted a straight ticket, but I'm voting Democrat."

She loves the reaction of the family's neighbors in Draper, who can't believe someone is "running as a D," she said.

But Babka is full of contradictions.

"My biggest saving grace was sports," he said. Those sports — he swam competitively, threw the shot put in AAU track and field and played youth soccer and basketball — kept him out of trouble.

"I was too big for football," he said with a laugh. "They had a weight limit."

They also began to create avenues to success as he lettered in football, basketball and track for three straight years in high school.

"I started to figure out you could lift (weights) and get big and the girls would be there," he said.

Football recruiters were there, too, and when the coach at UCLA moved to Hawaii, Babka went with him. He went on to play offensive line for the Rainbow Warriors, Delta State College and finally Arizona State University. Then he spent time with the Seattle Seahawks as a nose tackle.

But while sports helped, his real saving grace was an incredible self-discipline, an inner strength that matches his muscular strength — he has bench-pressed 665 pounds.

Rink Babka said he doesn't remember hurting his son but when prompted he did remember the boat incident. He said the neighbor had asked Beau to stay out of the boat because he worried it might get loose and run down the hill.

"That was unfortunate," he said. "I did grab him. He wasn't very big, and that was one time when the ratio between our sizes caused a problem. That scared the heck out of him, and I didn't mean it."

The father spoke with his son last week on his birthday and is quite proud of him, even though the Babkas have always been Republicans and Rink Babka played high school basketball with Jon Huntsman Sr. Still, he endorsed his son.

"He's been a leader since he came out of diapers, the kid always given the keys to lock up the gym. He has a big heart and a big conscience. It's amazing, but I've never known Beau to do anything really wrong."

Rink Babka said he doesn't have regrets about his parenting, but, he added, "Lots of times as parents we say or do things we wished we hadn't said or done because of different environments or pressures."

And while Babka has described his boyhood as "horrible," he also said, "I don't want to be painted as some kind of victim."

But he does want to reshape the world, care for other people and provide a different life for his six children.

"As a father, I want no pressure on my children," he said. "If they want to be ballerinas, be ballerinas, just be darn good ballerinas. But I want what they want."

That's a nonpartisan thought, but Babka has strong views on Utah's political divide.

"I'm a Republicrat, I guess," he said. "The Democratic Party to me was more of an inclusive party. I live my life the way I've chosen now, but I still have to respect others. I don't see that in the Republican Party. I was very much mystified by the Republican Party in Utah."

He's wanted to be a senator or congressman since he was a teenager, and he's prepared himself throughout his police career.

"A lot of the issues that Beau talked to me about in our first meeting," Mayne said, "his concern about people's access to health care, and how in his job, he met so many people that didn't have health care, concerns about the seniors with Social Security and prescription drug plans, and seniors having to choose between food and medication that they need, and the jobs issue, the loss of jobs, the recession, problems in the manufacturing area — those really are a better fit as a congressman than they are as a sheriff."

Babka's former chief in the South Salt Lake Police Department, Robert Gray, praised Babka, who rose through the ranks to detective and assistant chief quickly during the 1990s.

"He's a very good leader," said Gray, who is now on the South Salt Lake City Council. "He's what we call in law enforcement a 'fast riser.' He's very pro-active, very aggressive in accomplishing the various tasks and situations that are involved. He fit very well in community policing because he got along exceptionally well with citizens in the community, and he was an excellent organizer.

For a while, as a teenager, Babka had to get to know himself. There was a lot of pressure to be like Rink Babka, whose friends were a who's who of great American Olympic throwers such as Al Oerter.

"That's why I think I ventured off to football; it was my own thing," he said. "The shot (put)," not the discus, "was my own thing. It was my way to rebel."

He continued to rebel in every phase of his life, blazing opposite paths to his father's, shaped by their relationship. He became nervous, however, when his first child was born in 1992.

"I didn't ever want to grow up like my father as a father," he said. "Finally, I found out I can be a perfect father knowing what I know."

There were other influences in Babka's life, of course, but how did his childhood affect officer Babka when he went out on one of what he said has been thousands of domestic violence calls?

"I was very prepared," he said, "knowing family dynamics like I do. I think I was a better police officer, a better cop because I'd been through those things."

In fact, for a man who suffered as a boy, he conceded it was cathartic.

"It was in a way. I thought about the children. The children were the ones I focused in on. The aggressors, I would loathe. I wouldn't abuse them, but I was the first to put the cuffs on, put them in my car and take them to jail."

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com