Longtime Rep. Jim Hansen remembered as a politician who loved people, punctuality

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The flag-draped casket of former congressman Jim Hansen arrives at the Farmington City Cemetery, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018.

Farmington • Jim Hansen was known for measuring time down to the second. For staring at clock hands so he could start his meetings at the exact top of the hour. For cutting off fellow public officials who were running over their allotted speaking times.

Utah’s longest-serving U.S. House representative spent more than eight decades on Earth, and his friends and family members said during funeral services Saturday that he used every last bit of it.

“Jim was a man that made people laugh. He had a story for every occasion. He was an incredibly loyal friend. He was a man who loved his wife, he loved his children and grandchildren,” Ted Stewart, Hansen’s longtime friend and a senior federal judge, said Saturday during a eulogy. “In sum, he was a man who was a great steward of the 86 years that God gave him.”

Fast-walking and quick-tongued, Hansen was often several steps ahead of those around him, his relatives said. He had no love for the news media and wasn’t above the occasional partisan jab. (His son Joseph Hansen said the congressman relished reciting his own version of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will vote Republican.”)

But he was also willing to work across the aisle and teamed up with Democrats like U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy II on homeowner protections and U.S. Rep. Howard Berman on overhauling the House Committee on Ethics.

Hansen spent more than 40 years in public service, as a city council member, state representative and finally a Republican congressman, and also occupied leadership roles within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of his jobs as bishop was to supervise construction of the Farmington South Stake Center, the building where loved ones and dignitaries gathered Saturday to mourn his Nov. 14 death.

He’d slowed down a bit in his older years, but his energy still at times astonished his family members.

Case in point: For his 80th birthday, he’d resolved on going water-skiing. He had no interest in changing into swim trunks, so he decided to wade into the lake wearing his khaki pants, his granddaughter Anna Hansen said.

Anna and her father sloshed into the lake behind him, fishing Chapstick tubes and Tic-Tac packs from the water as they floated out of Hansen’s pants pockets.

“We got him into the skis. And we’re sitting there and nobody wanted to drive the boat because nobody wanted to kill Grandpa,” Anna said, laughing.

Hansen didn’t stay up on his skis for very long, but that wasn’t the point, she said.

James Vear Hansen began his political career in the early 1960s in Farmington, a city of about 1,600 people. The local plumbing situation wasn’t great back then — during the summer months, the water supply was sometimes dirty and other times nonexistent, Stewart said.

Even though he’d only lived in Farmington for a couple of years, Hansen won election to the city council and supervised the installation of a new utility system, allowing for growth and development in the small community.

“It was no small matter for a newcomer to this provincial little town to convince the old-timers, many of whom were pioneer families, to go into debt for $200,000 so that a new water system could be built so a whole bunch of new strangers could move into town,” Stewart said.

Hansen earned a post in the state Legislature about 12 years later, rising through the ranks to become House speaker. Then, in 1980, Gerald Ford (then a former president) and Ronald Reagan (then a future president) recruited him to run for Congress in Utah’s 1st District. He won the seat and stayed in it for 22 years.

But Stewart, who worked on Hansen’s congressional campaigns and whose brother is U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, said Hansen’s real dream was to become governor of Utah.

He never got there in part because of a promise he’d made to his longtime friend Norm Bangerter, who served with Hansen in the state Legislature. While there in 1978, both men had their sights on the House speaker post, Stewart said. But being best friends, they didn’t want to run against each other.

So they met at a restaurant on West Temple Street in Salt Lake City to hash things out, Stewart said. Ultimately, Bangerter would back off the speaker post so long as Hansen agreed to step aside in the future, if the two men were ever again interested in the same position.

Fast forward several years, and Hansen was just embarking on his tenure in Congress.

“He found it was a hard place to be. He was in the minority. He was one of 435 members. Legislative successes were very hard to come by,” Stewart said. “He was lonely, and he was separated from his family.”

Back in Utah, it had become clear that there was an opening for a Republican in the governor’s mansion after 20 years of Democrats in the post, and everyone was expecting Hansen to make a play for it, Stewart said.

Except Bangerter wanted to run. So Hansen stepped aside, Stewart said, and Bangerter went on to serve two terms as Utah’s governor.

Stewart said the story illustrated “the caliber of the man we are honoring here today.”

After leaving Congress, Hansen tried for the gubernatorial post in 2004 but failed; it was the only election he ever lost.