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EPA Nominee in Line With Bush's Ideas

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt's philosophies make him a good fit with the White House. But why, some wonder, would he want the job?

August 12, 2003|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, nominated by President Bush on Monday to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is the longest-serving governor in the country and a man who devised his own eight-point philosophy for governing.

Leavitt, 52, is considered a moderate Republican who has served 11 years as governor and was looking at a fourth term before the announcement.

Utah political analysts say Leavitt would fit well philosophically into the Bush administration, but they wonder why he would want the job.

"He clearly enjoys politics, and I think he was ready to take it to another level," said LeVarr Webb, a political consultant and former campaign manager for Leavitt. "But I was surprised it turned out to be the EPA. The EPA is a tar baby; you can't win no matter what you do. I was surprised he would go for that over something else."

Others said he accepted the nomination because polls showed a fourth term was not guaranteed.

"He's been a popular governor now in the middle of his third term with very weak poll numbers," said Ted Wilson, a former Salt Lake City mayor who directs the Hinkley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "He was running in the 40% range, which is not good for an incumbent. People were tired of him being there."

As governor, Leavitt has toed the conservative line by being pro-family, antiabortion and supportive of business interests, Wilson said.

"He is an affable and fun guy to be around," Wilson said. "The environmental community is very down on him. But the ultra-right in Utah is very tough on land issues and they were a major constituency of his. He could never deliver much on what he promised but I sympathized with his plight."

Leavitt touted a philosophy he called enlibra, Latin for "in balance," as the core of his governing ideal.

Consisting of eight guiding principles, enlibra espouses ideas such as: collaboration not polarization; reward results not programs; markets before mandates; solutions transcend political boundaries; and change a heart, change a nation.

"He also knows the Bush administration does not have an environmental philosophy that the public knows about," said Webb. "I think he can give them that message."

Meghan Holbrook, who heads Utah's Democratic Party, said she's glad someone from the West got the EPA job but doubts whether enlibra will catch on nationally.

"It sounds like a good idea, but ask most folks what it is and they think it's a horoscope in the newspaper," she said.

Environmentalists have criticized Leavitt for various policies, including an attempt to build a highway through Great Salt Lake wetlands.

"He talks about moderation and collaboration but he is quick to throw out environmental extremist labels," said Larry Young, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "This appointment is consistent with the Bush environmental record. You won't see any change of course."

But the administration says Leavitt has been a leader on environmental issues, improving air and water quality and bringing together various interests to try to eliminate air pollution over the Grand Canyon. He also opposed plans to store nuclear waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation, 45 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Leavitt was born in Cedar City, Utah, and received a bachelor's degree in economics and business from Southern Utah University. He became an insurance executive and served on the Utah Board of Regents, which oversees the state's nine colleges. He is married and has five children.

Leavitt would replace Christie Whitman, a former New Jersey governor who resigned in June after serving two years as EPA administrator.

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