J. Bracken Lee

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This article is about former Utah governor. For other people named Joseph Lee, see Joseph Lee (disambiguation).
J. Bracken Lee
J. Bracken Lee.JPG
J. Bracken Lee in the Governor's office on January 7, 1949
9th Governor of Utah
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 7, 1957
Preceded by Herbert B. Maw
Succeeded by George Dewey Clyde
Personal details
Born (1899-01-07)January 7, 1899
Price, Utah
Died October 20, 1996(1996-10-20) (aged 97)
Salt Lake City, Utah
Resting place Mt. Olivet Cemetery
40°45′26″N 111°51′01″W / 40.7571°N 111.8502°W / 40.7571; -111.8502 (Mt. Olivet Cemetery)
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Nellie Emilia Pace
(1922-1926)
(her death)
Margaret Ethel Draper
(1928-1989)
(her death)
Children 4
Parents Arthur J. Lee
Ida Mae (Leiter) Lee
Profession Politician, Insurance
Religion None[1]

Joseph Bracken Lee (January 7, 1899 – October 20, 1996) was a political figure in the state of Utah, United States. A Republican, he served two terms as the ninth Governor of Utah (1949–57), six two-year terms as mayor of Price, Utah (1935–47), and three terms as the 27th mayor of Salt Lake City (1960–71).

Lee was the most recent of the three Governors of Utah who was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), along with Simon Bamberger and George Dern.[1]

Early years and personal life[edit]

Lee was born in Price, Utah, to Arthur J. Lee (1870-1934) and Ida Mae (Leiter) Lee (1874–1980). When he was five, the family moved to Fruita, Colorado, where they remained until he was in the eighth grade. The family then returned to Price.

During World War I, Lee served in the U.S. Army, lying about his age and passing up his high school graduation in order to enlist. During training in California, the Army kept him there as a trainer for the soldiers going to Europe, believing that he had the excellent people skills needed for this job. This was a decision that Lee initially regretted, as he wished to serve in combat. After the war, he joined his father in the insurance business in Price prior to going into politics.

Lee married Nellie Pace. Their daughter, Helen (Nelson), was born in 1922 (died 2005). Two years later Nellie became seriously ill, first with pneumonia, and then with Hodgkin's disease, of which she died in 1926. The medical expenses placed Lee in considerable debt. Until the debts were paid, Lee moved into his own garage and rented out his house. Another way he tried to save money was by eating only one hamburger and drinking a quart of milk a day. During this time, his daughter lived with Lee's parents. This experience helped form his fiscal conservatism, as he vowed he would never go into debt again.

On February 23, 1928, he married Margaret Draper (1909–1989) of Wellington, Utah. They had three children, a son, James (born 1930), a daughter, Jon (Taylor) (born 1935), and a son, Richard (1944-2012).

Margaret fueled Lee's political ambition, encouraging his entry into politics and actively contributing to his career. Together, they made a formidable team. She had a remarkable memory for names, a skill helpful to Bracken in public life. Margaret was active in the Women's Literary Society. She also did historical research on prominent women in the West and gave speeches about them. Bracken and Margaret were married for 61 years, until her death in 1989.

Lee was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, particularly enjoying the high desert in eastern Utah near his native Price. He played semi-professional baseball as a young man, playing shortstop. He was also an extraordinary handiman, with skills in jewelry making and painting. He was a member of the Freemasons; Shriners, and the Elks.

Lee died in Salt Lake City and is interred there in a family plot at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. At 97 years, he lived longer than any other Utah Governor.

Political career[edit]

Lee was fiscally conservative and a deep opponent of the income tax. With hefty cuts in spending, he was able to run surpluses in all of his administrations. As governor, he trimmed both spending and bureaucracy by cutting the number of departments and commissioners. He particularly angered the teachers' union for his cuts in higher education. In addition to his fierce opposition to the income tax, he opposed foreign aid and the United Nations. While Lee was the descendant of Mormons, he formed no religious affiliation himself, but still enjoyed political success despite the fact that he was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).[1] Although he did not shy from criticism of the church, he was careful to maintain good diplomacy with its leadership.

For a time Lee became involved in conservative anti-tax groups who advocated the formation of an independent third party because of the increasing liberalism of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Lee lost his first political campaign for mayor of Price in 1931. He returned in 1935 to win by just two votes, enjoying reelection another 5 times there. He lost two runs for governor in the 1940s before a successful bid in the fall of 1948. In 1956, he lost the Republican primary, which caused him to run a strong but unsuccessful race as an independent. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in both 1958 and 1962, and again for governor in 1964, though he was defeated in the Republican state convention. Under the Utah political system at the time, if no candidate running for statewide office or House of Representatives got 80% of the delegate votes at the convention, a primary was held between the top two candidates. Lee came in third at the convention which eliminated his candidacy.

In 1960, he was the Conservative Party's nominee for President. His Running Mate was Kent Courtney. They came in 9th place by popular vote.

Controversial firing of Police Chief Cleon Skousen[edit]

Cleon Skousen had served as Salt Lake City, Utah, police chief for four years before being fired. Salt Lake City had a weak-mayor system The mayor was a member of the five member commission. In 1960 Lee offered a motion to fire Skousen and the majority of the commission voted yes.[2] This happened shortly after Skousen raided an illegal poker club, where J. Bracken Lee was in attendance.[3][4] Lee characterized Skousen's strict enforcement of anti-gambling laws as "like a Gestapo."[5][6]

Lee's legacy[edit]

Lee's biographer, Dennis Lythgoe, regards his greatest contribution his terms as mayor of Salt Lake City, where he brought fiscal responsibility and capital improvements to the city. With age having moderated his temper somewhat, he was more effective in office while remaining true to his principles.

Lee's legacy as governor is sometimes disputed. While many point to his temper, opinionated personality, and battles with educators as problems, he is also generally praised for his fiscal responsibility, and for the fact that Utah enjoyed a prosperous economy during his administration. Throughout his entire tenure, the state had a surplus rather than debt. Even Lee's political opponents respected his integrity and honest, open and straightforward ways of dealing.

Lee was often compared to President Harry S. Truman. Though the two had differing political viewpoints and were members of opposite parties, their personalities were similar. They shared folksy manners, never shied from stating their opinions, and were bluntly honest. With the two in office at the same time from 1949–1953, it was easy for many to compare the two.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Pace, Eric (22 October 1996). "J. Bracken Lee Is Dead at 97; Was Blunt Governor of Utah". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  2. ^ J. Bracken Lee Is Dead at 97; Was Blunt Governor of Utah - New York Times
  3. ^ Beck's backing bumps Skousen book to top | Deseret News
  4. ^ Political Feud in Salt Lake City: J. Bracken Lee and the Firing of W. Cleon Skousen, Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 42, No. 4, 1974, p. 316 article by Dennis L. Lythgoe
  5. ^ Organizations: The Ultras - TIME
  6. ^ The Washington Monthly
  • George B. Russell, J. Bracken Lee: The Taxpayer's Champion, New York: R. Speller, 1961
  • Dennis L. Lythgoe, Let 'em holler: a political biography of J. Bracken Lee. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1982.
  • Dennis L. Lythgoe, 'J. Bracken Lee', in Allan Kent Powell, ed., Utah History Encyclopedia. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Adiel F. Stewart
Mayor of Salt Lake City
1960–1971
Succeeded by
Jake Garn
Preceded by
Herbert B. Maw
Governor of Utah
1949–1957
Succeeded by
George D. Clyde