Michael Okerland Leavitt

Jay M. Haymond
Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994

Michael O. Leavitt is Utah’s fourteenth governor since statehood was achieved. He was born 11 February 1951 in Cedar City, Iron County. He is the oldest child of Anne and Dixie Leavitt, who are the parents of five other sons. He gained much of his early training on the Leavitt ranch in Loa, Wayne County, where he learned the values of hard work and taking responsibility.

Leavitt graduated from Cedar City High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from Southern Utah University in Cedar City. There he met Jacalyn Smith of Newton, Cache County, who was attending SUU and participating in the local Shakespearean Festival. On 6 July 1973 they were married. They are the parents of five children: Mike, Taylor, Anne Marie, Chase, and Westin; the family has lived in Salt Lake City since 1978.

Leavitt’s business career started early when he won a contract to collect refuse at four campgrounds near Cedar City and then hired his teenage brothers to work on the project. Later he joined the organization founded by his father, The Leavitt Group, a regional insurance firm with thirty-four offices in Utah and the West, eventually becoming its president and chief executive officer. The firm’s revenues have grown to nearly $100,000,000 annually, establishing it as one of the top insurance companies in America. Leavitt’s business leadership led to his appointment to the boards of directors of Pacificorp, Utah Power and Light Company, and Great Western Thrift and Loan.

Prior to his election as governor, Leavitt distinguished himself as a member and chair of the Utah State Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s nine colleges and universities, and as chair of the Education Subcommittee of the Utah Commission for Efficiency and Economy in Government. He also served on the strategic Planning Committee for Public Education and worked to develop a long-term plan for Utah’s public education system. He also was chair of SUU’s board of trustees for four years.

His political career began when he helped his father, a Republican state senator, with his unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1976. Later he worked on Jake Garn’s 1980 and 1986 Senate campaigns and on Orrin Hatch’s 1982 and 1988 Senate races. Between these successes he was responsible for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign in thirteen critical northeastern states.

When Governor Norman Bangerter decided not to seek reelection in 1992, Leavitt entered the race. He defeated Richard Eyre in the Republican primary and ran on a platform of meeting Utah’s educational challenges and creating new jobs with higher salaries for more Utah workers. In the 2 November general election, he defeated Independent Merrill Cook and Democrat Stewart Hanson. Leavitt chose as his running mate Olene Walker, a former state legislator, who then became the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in Utah. Leavitt praised his predecessor for having put Utah on a “very firm foundation.” Then he continued, “but we plan to move it to a whole new level of performance.”