ST. GEORGE — Though Utah State Rep. Brad Last says the legislation to change the name of Dixie State University was important, he’s really more of a numbers man. However, while the latter may be more important in the day-to-day operation of the state, the former still provided an emotional jolt for the Republican legislator from Hurricane who represents portions of both Washington and Iron counties.
“I voted yes on that bill,” Last told St. George News, “but my main responsibility to Utah – and my constituents – is to put the budget together. I spend most of my time in legislative sessions on budgets.”
Last, who is also appropriations chair for the Utah House, said that he spends countless hours fielding budget requests, then trying to decide if those requests ought to get funds.
He said that questions he must consider include: What do they need? How much do they need? Why should we give them funding?
“In the end, the budget must balance,” he said. “Otherwise, we need to start removing line items.”
Part of that process, Last said, includes looking at a cluster of big computer screens. There’s a number at the top of one screen, and with the addition of each line item, that number decreases. When it goes into the negative, he needs to go back and take things out.
“In doing so, I’ve got to use my political judgment,” said Last, who has spent 19 years working on legislation. “I’m always asking myself: What’s our role, as legislators, in society? How do we offer help to those who can’t care for themselves?”
Last, who describes his approach as “compassionate conservative,” said that he strives to avoid giving handouts in lieu of helping people acquire the means to care for themselves.
“Are we giving away fish?” Last asked rhetorically. “Or are we teaching them how to fish?”
The difference between the two, Last said, is setting up unsustainable services versus building a better quality of life for Utahns.
This idea of building a better quality of life, both for himself and for others, has its roots in Last’s youth. He started working young, with his own paper route in Hurricane delivering the Deseret News.
“I was 10 years old,” Last said. “My dad was the town doctor. He was always working, but he didn’t make any money. When he was 50, he went back to school to specialize in anesthesia.”
Last attended Dixie State University and served a mission in Virginia for The Church of Latter-day Saints before attending the University of Utah, where he earned a master’s in business administration. He also met his wife there. They moved to Hurricane in 1991.
“Now, we’ve got three kids of our own who are in Salt Lake,” Last said. “One is in med school, one attends the University of Utah and the other attends Salt Lake Community College, where he plays basketball. When I’m in legislative session, I take time to see them.”
This past legislative session presented Last with a gift that was not without its challenges.
“My wife joined me in Salt lake for the first time since I joined the Legislature,” he said. “It was nice, but it was a different experience. Planning was tricky, but we enjoyed ourselves.”
Last wakes early to study bills and work with interns on responding to messages from constituents. Then, on a typical day, he heads into meetings. Besides the physical constraints of the pandemic, this year presented new challenges within the legislation too, Last said.
“With all the federal COVID-19 funding, I spent considerable time offering guidance on how to use those funds appropriately,” he said. “That’s why I don’t run many bills myself.”
Last said he’s learned from experience that as the end of the 45-day legislative session nears, there isn’t much time to develop and run personal bills.
“I’m working with a $23 billion annual budget,” he said. “Because of that, I also miss a lot of votes. I spend a lot of time working off of the floor, with people like Sen. Don Ipson.”
Still, Last found the time to work with a number of parties on the Colorado River Authority Bill, which is focused on preserving and promoting Utah’s interest in the Colorado River. The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people across California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, as well as Mexico.
“I take this interest very seriously,” Last said. “While our neighbors to the north may not think much of it, we’re very dependent upon that water. That bill puts us in the best position possible to negotiate for our interests with knowledge and strength.”
Though the Dixie name change bill was contentious, Last said he saw both sides of the issue clearly.
“It was a source of stress during the session,” he said. “I feel an attachment to the name and ideals it represents to Southern Utahns, but I also have the added perspective of an employee at the institution. I’ve seen President Richard Williams’ vision. We believe in this institution and its awesome potential to be a resource for this community.”
The bill required a good deal of behind-the-scenes negotiating, Last said.
“It required a lot of conversations to make it work for all sides,” he said, “but there’s a silver lining. These battles build support through challenges. I try to maintain personal relationships through the disagreements. I accept that our principals and philosophies won’t always align. … There’s a lot of emotion in bills like that, but we found compromise. In doing so, we also develop a kinship.”
This story is part of a weekly St. George News series highlighting the lives and backgrounds of Utah lawmakers who represent people in Washington and Iron counties. See previous entries below.
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