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Chris Stewart's next big challenge — Congress

Published September 19, 2012 7:32 am

The novelist, former pilot says he feels compelled to run for U.S. House seat.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Deep into writing his first novel, Chris Stewart became increasingly aware of an unsettling problem: The villain in his novel just wasn't working out as the bad guy.

But Stewart's editors at the publishing house didn't care. They wanted a draft of the techno-thriller and deadline was approaching fast. The whole story seemed to be in jeopardy because Stewart's gut told him the antagonist he had worked so long to craft was, in fact, shaping up to be the novel's hero instead.

"He just didn't seem capable of doing the things a villain needed to do," Stewart said. "Yet I knew by changing that, I'd have to go back to the first chapter and begin rewriting the whole thing."

So he did. And the 432-page novel, Shattered Bone, was released in 2000 with Richard Ammon now cast as the double-agent Air Force pilot hero who thwarts a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

By his own admission, Stewart doesn't hold the effort in particularly high regard ("plot-driven and poor character development"). Reader reviews on Amazon ranged from glowing ("An amazingly good first novel. May he write many, many more!") to scathing ("I wouldn't be interested in seeing this guy's other writing even if the books were edible and I was starving to death").

The experience, however, revealed two key things about Stewart. First, he realized he loved writing and has penned 15 books to date. The other was his willingness to change course in the face of an unpleasant task.

Which is perhaps not at all surprising for a 52-year-old economics major who joined the U.S. Air Force as a pilot and ended up writing books while running a consulting business and now is running to represent Utah's 2nd District in Congress — a political entity that can't seem to accomplish much and that struggles to have an approval rating in the teens.

"I never thought I'd run for office," he said. "But I just felt I had to do something."

First things first • Born in Logan — with a brief detour in Southern California while his dad was stationed there — Stewart spent his formative years working on a dairy farm.

Rich Stewart, his older brother by 12 years, said the younger Stewart "had more responsibility than most kids" when he had to get up to stir about 75 cows and milk them — a two-hour task done each day before school. Before opening presents on Christmas. Before doing anything, for that matter.

But Rich Stewart, who works on a farm in Idaho, said he also remembers his younger brother's early startup business as a teenager.

"There was the time he and a friend tried to start up a fence-post business and another time they started a Christmas tree business," Steward recalled. "None of them were terribly fruitful."

Chris Stewart said while in high school, he thought he wanted to be a lawyer or a pilot. But one thing never occurred to him — joining the military.

Five of his six brothers served in the military and his father had suggested when he was 16 that Stewart might want to consider doing so as well — not necessarily as a career but as a chance to serve.

"I thought it was a dumb idea," Stewart said.

The seed was planted, though, and after serving an LDS Church mission in Texas and studying economics at Utah State University, he enlisted in the Air Force to fly helicopters and said, "Maybe my dad was right after all."

The helicopter piloting lasted for a few years before he decided he wanted to fly airplanes instead. That decision — which sent him back to flight school — ultimately put him on a path to setting an around-the-world flight record on a B-1 bomber.

'Supersonic Saints' • Maj. Chris "Stew Babe" Stewart was part of an eight-man crew that in 1995 won the Mackay Trophy for flying a B-1 Lancer over three bombing ranges on three continents in two hemispheres in just over 36 hours. It was highlighted in a book entitled Supersonic Saints: Thrilling Stories from LDS Pilots.

Capt. Kevin Clotfelter, now an educator in California, said the flight was fairly uneventful — a few lightning storms and deviating around a storm — but what did stand out for him was when Stewart quietly revealed a secret to him.

"He told me he'd been toying around with this book for quite a few years," Clotfelter said. "It was the first time I'd been flying with someone for three or four years and found out something personal like that — that he was a writer. He said he'd been working on it, and he said his wife had told him if he was going to make a go at it, he needed to crap or get off the pot."

That book ended up being Shattered Bone.

Stewart said writing has been the one common thread in his life — dating back to his first writing course at Brigham Young University while in his early 20s. He said the class didn't give him much hope as an author.

"I got my report card from the creative writing class and got an incomplete," Stewart said. "The instructor said that all my writing through the course had been marginal and that my last story was pretty good. Then he said, 'I don't think you wrote it.' "

Stewart said writing for him since then has been compulsive and that his experiences always seem to become material for his books. He said he was sure his time on the campaign trail also would provide good material — an irony given what happened at the State Republican Party Convention in April.

Conspiracy theory • It had all the elements of a political-conspiracy novel.

Stewart, locked into an 11-person race for the GOP nomination for the 2nd Congressional District, showed up at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy and prepared to give his speech to delegates and convince them that Congress needed more members with military experience and someone with an economics pedigree.

After the candidates spoke, the delegates would vote and if anyone could eclipse 60 percent, they would nab the party's nomination.

But Eureka Mayor Milton Hanks blew things up as the last speaker when he accused four candidates of forming the "ABC Club," which stood for "Anybody But Chris [Stewart]." Hanks said it was a low-blow tactic to conspire against Stewart. The four candidates, in turn, accused Stewart of planting Hanks in the race as a ploy to destroy their chances of winning.

A Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint filed by Cherilyn Eagar, David Clark, Howard Wallack and John Williams alleged Stewart's campaign manufactured an anonymous letter to delegates claiming the four had started the ABC Club and that Hanks was in on the conspiracy.

Other than the ongoing FEC investigation, it all turned out well for Stewart. He clinched the nomination and later got the stamp of approval from the state Republican Party, which declared, after an internal probe, that there had been no wrongdoing.

Rich Stewart said after it all went down April 21, he went backstage and gave his brother a quick hug.

"I just told him this would pass," Rich Stewart said. "That it would work out."

Stewart also had some big guns come to his defense — including conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck.

Beck, who had worked on books with Stewart, calls him "a good friend of mine" and had Hanks on his show shortly after the scandal. Beck said Stewart is among a group of "good honest men that are still out there who refuse to play the political game."

Balanced budget • On a Friday night, the Viewmont High School football team is being trounced by rival Davis High School.

Chris Stewart and his wife, Evie, were there to watch their youngest daughter on the drill team at the halftime show and volunteer to work the snack shed.

All night, he'd been dishing out hot dogs and candy amid verbal exchanges punctuated with heavy usage of the word "dude" and a lot of "y'all's."

When halftime hit, Stewart sat in the stands, cupped his hands to his mouth and cheered as his daughter performed to a bass-heavy dance song forced through a tinny speaker. The diffused sound, however, didn't seem to hamper the routine and it didn't bother Stewart — who admitted his music tastes trended more toward 3 Doors Down and Pink Floyd than to most hip-hop.

When she finished, he headed back to the snack shed to finish up his shift. Dressed in shorts, skater tennis shoes and a cotton button-down shirt, Stewart noticed the crowd filing out as Davis scored another touchdown to make it 35-7 and the yet-to-be-sold hot dogs sat warming on the grill next to him. As fans filtered past the window, he made an executive decision. The hot dogs that were selling for a buck were now being reduced: dramatically.

"Hey, three for a dollar," he yelled.

Soon he was negotiating down to three for 50 cents. And then, four for 50 cents. Within minutes, the excess hot-dog supply was gone.

He took the money, walked over to the metal chest and put the bills and coins in it. He was told if he's going to Congress to try to balance the budget, he'd better be sure to balance the snack-shed drawer.

He laughed.

"I guess that's true," he said. "Wouldn't want that coming back to haunt me."

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero —

The Chris Stewart file

Age • 52

Born • Logan

Family • Married with six children

Occupation • Author, businessman

Education • Utah State University, economics degree