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Former Utah Sen. Garn stays down to earth as volunteer

Jake Garn long has been associated with Utah, and that is the way he likes it.

He is a native, born in Richfield, educated in the public schools of Salt Lake City and at the University of Utah, from which he graduated as a business major in 1955.

He left in the 1950s to serve four years as a pilot in the U.S. Navy, then returned to Salt Lake and began an insurance career. He soon became involved in Republican Party politics, eventually winning election, first to the city commission, then as mayor.

After one two-year term as mayor he took on a bigger challenge. He ran for and was elected to the U.S. Senate. It was 1974, not a good year for Republicans in the wake of Watergate, but Garn scored a convincing victory.

He immediately made a mark in the Senate as a conservative and as a foreign policy hawk. He criticized President Ford for relaxing the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, fought ratification of the Panama Canal treaty and opposed social welfare measures.

His record pleased the voters back home, who returned him to the Senate for a second term. It was during his second term that the former Navy pilot asked to take part in a space mission as an astronaut.

As a member of a Senate subcommittee that reviewed spending for the space program, he could perform a legitimate fact-finding function, he said. In 1983, NASA invited Garn to become the first public official to fly on a space mission.

He trained at Johnson Space Center in Texas and the Kennedy Space Center, and on April 12, 1985, was a member of a seven-man crew launched aboardDiscovery for a week-long mission.

The next year Utah voters again returned Garn to the Senate, but he said that his third term would be his last. "I announced my decision six years in advance and moved my family back to Utah in 1986," he said. "For my entire last term in the Senate I commuted every week. It was worth it to be home and have our children raised in Utah."

Garn said he always had intended to return to Utah no matter what he did. "I have always been puzzled by the number of my colleagues who never go back to their home state," he said. "Who were they representing? I didn't want to be a lobbyist, so I came home to be in the private sector."

Garn is vice chairman of Huntsman Corp., the largest privately owned chemical company in the United States, with headquarters in Salt Lake City. He also serves on several boards, including those of Dean Witter Intercapital, the John Alden Financial Corp., Franklin Quest and the United Space Alliance.

Volunteer work also is something to which Garn, 63, gives freely of his time. "I always felt strongly that I didn't want anyone in Utah to get the idea that the only reason I showed up or did anything was because I needed their votes," he said. His charitable activities include service on the Intermountain Hospital Corp. board, as a member of the Salt Lake City Airport Authority and with the Utah Manufacturing Extension program.

"And during the school year I'm still doing a couple of appearances a week at schools," he said, "showing space films and answering questions."

Although he is no longer politically active as a candidate, he continues to volunteer time in that area as well. "I've been active in Bob Dole's campaign," he said. "I held a fund-raiser for him in January."

Garn says he always has been a Dole man. "I had the privilege of serving with him for 18 years," Garn said. "I wish people could see the Bob Dole I saw. If they could, he'd be elected easily.

"It's unfortunate in politics that images are very different than the individuals themselves," Garn said. "Look at (Presidents) Clinton and Reagan. Both were extremely good at handling the media, but Dole in my opinion is so much better grounded than either of them in the fundamentals of government. If you make a judgment on substance, Dole wins hands down, but if it's based on charisma, it's a different story."

Nevertheless, Garn is not giving up. "I need only look back at Bush, who had a 90 percent approval rating at one point and yet lost," he said. "So there's plenty of evidence that things can be turned around."

Garn says it is frustrating to him when he sees Clinton, "a liberal Democrat, give (Barry) Goldwater, Dole and Garn speeches on issues such as welfare. . . . I resent a liberal stealing my issues."

Garn said he expects some people like Pat Buchanan to try making a big issue out of abortion at the Republican National Convention, but said, "I hope the convention will be smart enough to recognize that any single issue shouldn't determine the outcome of an election. I'm very much opposed to abortion, but let's not judge people on that issue alone."

The seven children Garn and his wife Kathleen moved back to Utah remain there today, except for one daughter, Susan. Garn donated one of his kidneys to Susan, a diabetic who had suffered kidney failure, 10 years ago. "We lost her to Virginia," he said." Susan is back in Utah for a visit, and said Garn: "Both my kidneys are in Utah for the first time in years."