The last time I saw Ed Mayne—about a week before the Sept. 11 primary election—he was smiling big and broadly. That was some feat, considering he had just finished another brutal round of chemotherapy for the lung cancer he’d been fighting for the better part of the year. His hair was all gone; he’d dropped considerable weight from his big-bear frame.
But, for a few minutes on that warm afternoon, he was mingling with his people and loving every second of it. It was a gathering of solid union men and women at Riverside Park, on the city’s west side. Salt Lake City firefighters and municipal employees—many of them second- and third-generation union folk—were sponsoring a rally for a mayoral candidate. Long before he took the microphone to warm up the crowd, Mayne busied himself pumping hands and wrapping his big arms around old friends.
Cancer took Ed Mayne on Nov. 25. He was 62. Ed had been a Democratic state senator since 1994. He was serving as president of the AFL-CIO of Utah, a post he had held since the age of 32. Before that, Ed’s résumé read like what you’d expect of a hardscrabble west-side boy: vice president, then president of local 485 of the United Steel Workers of America; a job on the track gang at Kennecott Copper at the Bingham Canyon Mine. He was born in Bingham Canyon.
I didn’t really know Ed well even though, as a longtime journalist in town, I’ve written about some of his legislation and speeches on the state Senate floor. Some members of my family, active in Democratic and union politics, knew him much better. What struck all of us though, in reading the pro-forma quotes in his front-page obituaries earlier this week, is how superficial—and, frankly, pretty mindless—the eulogies were.
Which is sad, when you think of a guy fighting uphill his whole life for regular working stiffs and their kids, giving up most of his time to public service in a state that continues to balance its chugging economy on the backs of those who help fuel the engine.
If Ed Mayne stood for anything, and if he is remembered for anything, it ought to be for always knowing where he came from and whom he worked for. In at least the last three legislative sessions, Ed held steady against regular Republican efforts to hack away at Medicaid benefits for the poorest and most disabled populations in Utah. He didn’t hold much esteem for payday lenders, which proliferate in his west Salt Lake County senate district and which have come to be synonymous with exploiting the poor by charging near-usury interest rates.
But you wouldn’t have known any of that to hear the usual suspects speak of him. They didn’t talk of any legacy, or work to carry on in Ed Mayne’s behalf.
“I admired and loved Eddie because of his dedication to all working men and women,” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch told The Salt Lake Tribune. “His decency, honor and friendship meant a great deal to me.”
State Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble told the Tribune “[Ed] was kind and gentle, but he was a ferocious warrior.” Added Senate President John Valentine: “We all respected how he cared so deeply for working men and women.”
I guess it’s unreasonable to expect much more than inch-deep niceties upon a public figure’s death. It isn’t that I expected anyone to speak ill of Ed. But I did hope for more than the standard puff of solemn vapors that floated forth.
It would mean a helluva lot more to working class Utahns to hear just one Republican mention how the majority party could add a pinch of the Mayne ingredient to the most pressing public policy issues we have.
For starters, Utah’s congressional delegation could keep the memory alive of six miners and three rescue workers who died last summer in the collapse of Emery County’s Crandall Canyon Mine. Hatch, who set a new standard for puffball questioning of federal mining-safety officials in the weeks following the disaster, could lead off by forcing some serious congressional oversight of the industry. A BLM inspector had warned two full years ago against the practice of retreat mining (also called pillar pulling), which weakens the mine’s structural support and almost certainly contributed to Crandall Canyon turning into a death trap.
Looking ahead to January 2008, state lawmakers could keep a bit of Ed alive by chipping in to assist the very poor with their basic medical and dental needs, to continue funding the CHIP program (children’s health insurance) at reasonable levels and to fight the innate urge GOP leaders will have to bully Democrats and moderate Republicans who fought against school vouchers.
I’m not so idiotic as to expect a deep change of heart from this state’s power brokers. All I’m asking is for a little sincerity with the eulogy delivery, boys. Go ahead and sweet-talk the good working people and their heroes. But then deliver. Give a little back to those whom Ed never forgot. That would be a real honor.