ST. GEORGE — Utah state Rep. Walt Brooks says his journey to the Legislature was an accident, despite people saying he should run for the House.
“My feeling was that politics is like a sewer,” Brooks told St. George News. “You can’t go in without coming out smelling like the sewer.”
Brooks said as much to local scoutmaster Abe Bundy, to which Bundy replied: “That’s why we need good plumbers.”
Brooks said he had been joking about why he didn’t think he’d want to run, but Bundy’s comment “made me realize that we all have to do our part to keep the life we enjoy. He is a great mentor.”
So Brooks, who had been appointed to fill Sen. Don Ipson’s vacated House seat in September 2016, officially ran for the position in 2018 and won. Then he had to really buckle down and figure out what he had to offer.
“There are doctors, lawyers, teachers in politics,” Brooks said. “They’re all experts in their field, and they bring their unique perspectives to our work. I thought: I can run a business. I can bring a conservative voice into the fold.”
Brooks, the owner of a pharmacy tracking software company who lives in the house his great grandfather built just north of the Bluff Street Smith’s, said his business wouldn’t have grown the way it had if too much government interference existed. Because of that, he said, he learned to live within his means.
“Otherwise,” Brooks said, “the business would have failed.”
Not too far from that house is Walt Brooks Stadium, which was named for Brooks’ grandfather, who coached track, basketball and football for many years in the St. George community at Hurricane High, Dixie High and Dixie College.
“He played basketball at BYU,” Brooks said. “He was a great man and a constant reminder to be a better person daily.”
A swath of downtown St. George may be glimpsed from the north- and east-facing windows in Brooks’ corner office. Brooks described a typical day in the Legislature as he sat before the windows bathed in bright midday sunshine.
“We Southern Utah lawmakers don’t get to go home at the end of the day,” he said.
Brooks said that his wife gives a great deal of support as he does his work in Salt Lake City for 45 days each year.
“I come home some weekends,” he said, “but I’ve always got to head back up there on Sunday. The Legislature takes every moment of those 45 days.”
Brooks said he typically wakes up early, reads bills, then goes into meetings from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“Then I read more bills.”
Because of all the reading, he said he learned another valuable lesson quickly.
“I learned to listen to the experts on issues dealing with their fields,” Brooks said.
One of the bills that Brooks sponsored and passed at the 2021 Legislature that garnered considerable attention was HB 60, which allows Utahns to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. Brooks said it was a conversation with a constituent that got him thinking about concealed-carry laws.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about the requirement,” Brooks said. “The states that don’t require a permit for concealed carry – Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire – violent crime has been historically low or has gone down. It was clear that I should do something, because the law wasn’t working. So I sponsored House Bill 60.”
Brooks said he noticed that when someone walks into a business brandishing a firearm on their person, “it made people uncomfortable.”
“This isn’t Democrat versus Republican, or left versus right,” Brooks said. “It’s good policy backed by good data. That’s why it was successful.”
Brooks said the important thing is not government regulation.
“It’s that people should learn how to use and care for their guns.”
When it comes to other legislation, Brooks said he doesn’t run many bills because they need to be “good ones.”
“They must be about some fundamental problem that we need to solve,” he said.
Along those lines, Brooks also sponsored HB 86 in the 2021 session, which raises the state tax credit for retired Utah couples from $32,000 to $50,000.
“Critics said it wasn’t enough,” said Brooks, “but throughout the legislative session, we’re doing the best we can to get the best possible version of a bill before the House and Senate. As we work to get the bills right for as many people as possible, the bills change a lot.”
Though HB 86 took four years of work before being passed into law, Brooks said he still got a lot of criticism on the bill.
“The governments don’t make wealth,” he said. “They should work to keep wealth in the hands of the people. That’s why that bill was a long time coming.”
In the bigger picture, Brooks said that whether it was the successful passage of legislation or just running for office in general, “sometimes it’s all about the timing.”
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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