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Cherish the Constitution, obey the law—and vote

by James V. Hansen.

LDS Business College Devotional
November 2, 2010
Thank you for inviting me to be here today, and to speak to you for a few moments. You notice I have an “I Voted” tag on there, do you see that? I hope everybody in this room who is eligible, by the time the bell tolls at 8:00, that you have voted. It’s extremely important in America. This is a huge day. An election day is more important to me than Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas combined; it’s an important day. And you’ve got to take advantage of it. If you don’t, I’m really disappointed in you.
I sat on the National Republican Campaign Committee for eight years. We did polls all over America, and in the age group of 18-25, five to seven percent voted. Boy, did you give up an awful lot in that group. Who voted the most? Who would you guess? The grey hairs—us old folks. 65, 70, 80 percent of those folks voted, because I guess they could see the importance of it at that particular time in their lives.
Let’s talk back a little bit in history and go back to George Washington. Don’t let this bore you, because this is important. I can’t believe what this fellow did with this army. He was kind of a surveyor; he wasn’t a general. He had the Constitutional Congress, which wasn’t giving him any money to speak of, he had a ragtag army. And they crossed the Delaware. Do you realize that almost a third of them didn’t have shoes and boots? Most of them hadn’t had anything to eat for four days. Have you ever fasted that long? Try it sometime; it’s very, very difficult. And what do you do? There’s snow up to their knees, below zero weather. What would you do? Well, they wrapped their feet, which were bleeding, in burlap sacks, and they fought this thing. Why? Why did they do it? So you could vote today. Really. That’s why they did it.
As you look at this today, you are passing up a great opportunity for people like that group and groups that came time after time. You’ve heard of President Wilson, haven’t you? He was president of the United States during the First World War. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to get into this war. He didn’t want to go over there. Cohen wrote that great song, “Over There.” Remember that? “And the Yanks are coming . . . “And America got energized and went into that war, and they fought it with trench warfare. That was a trench fight. And they won, and they came back. Why did he do it? So you could vote today. None of you were alive then. I wasn’t either.
Anyway, carrying that on, what about FDR? Franklin Delano Roosevelt. How many of you in here were alive on December 7, 1941, other than me? Not too many. Well, let me tell you this. I was just a little boy, but I remember my dad, who was in the First World War flying Jennies—a funny little airplane. As a pilot myself, I always wanted to fly one. I don’t know how they ever got them off the ground. And I remember we were listening to the radio, and they were talking about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, and Dad said, “We’re going to be at war.” That was a long, hard-fought war, a tough war. Really a tough war. We call that “The Greatest Generation.” Why did they do it? So you could vote today.
You know those words—they are worth repeating; they came from a man that I respect very much. His name is Ronald W. Reagan. He said that all of these things were done so that you could have the privilege to vote, so that you could have the privilege to have an education, so that you could do all these things—have a family, buy a car, progress in your life, go on missions, all of those things. This whole Church only exists because of the United States government. You may not believe that, but Joseph Smith believed it. And he believed it so much he ran for president of the United States, on a very interesting platform. A lot of it has been adopted to this day. You read the Doctrine and Covenants, and even in 2 Nephi, where you read about that this is going to come forth. And the only way that it could make it was that it would be a nation of freedom, and a nation where really the people protect their ability to do these things.
Thomas Paine said we live in perilous times. You can’t listen to a speaker today anywhere, and they say, “Oh, we live in perilous times.” I’m just mentioning to you, oh, we’ve lived in perilous times in every generation. They come all along, one perilous time after another. And it’s individuals who do these things. The first time I got into politics was in the Farmington City Council, because I wanted to fix the water system. I didn’t care about parties. I had a cause I wanted to do. I still remember a fellow by the name of Newell Hess, probably in his 70s or 80s; I was in my 20s. He didn’t come one night, and all of a sudden the mayor said, “Well, his son Jay was shot down over Vietnam in an F5. They don’t know if he’s alive or dead.” So we all were praying that Jay would get through this all right. In two years, his captors in Hanoi only let him write 27 words. This is what he wrote: “These things are important—missions, scouting, genealogy, take pictures, press on. Love, Dad.”
What would you write? They knew he was alive, and eventually he was there and now he’s home and he’s a great friend of mine, great young man—well, maybe he’s not too young anymore. But boy, did he give a lot.
I have another friend by the name of Sam Johnson. Do any of you know Sam? He’s from Texas, he’s a congressman. He served in Vietnam. He was a captive in Hanoi for 6½ years, and they beat his hands so bad—he said they put it down on a rock like that and they beat it with a hammer. You shake hands with Sam; his hand is emaciated. But Sam was tough. Boy, he’s tough. And Sam had a sign, and he put it up in his prison cell. It said: “Freedom has a taste to it for those who fought and nearly died, that the protected will never understand.” Sam is a great member of Congress right now, a fine gentleman from Texas. Why did he do it? He did it so you can vote. He did it so you could have some freedom, so this very important day—I’m proud to see people wearing that sign on them that says, “I Voted.” Anybody else got one on today? Way to go—two out of what, three or four hundred? We’re not doing too red hot. Oh, wait a minute—three, four—congratulations. Love you for that. That’s great that you have done things like that.
My father always used to say, “Learn to achieve, not to envy.” We politicians have a little saying that came from Plato that says, “Those of us who are smart enough to never run for political office are destined to be governed by those dumb enough to do it.” Being one of those dumb enough to do it, but there has to be those who will do it. Today and about, there’s a lot of people; they’re not dumb, they’re very bright, and they’re working hard. Probably they made a slip of the tongue somewhere; everybody does during a campaign—having run 19 times, I can tell you that’s easy to do. Don’t hold that against them, but kind of look into their soul a little bit and see if they will put principle above politics. That’s the important thing that you’ve got to take in mind.
There was one man who went to Washington and he came back after talking to members of Congress, both the House and the Senate, and the president of the United States, and he said this, “There’s but little solidity and honorable deportment among those who are sent here to represent the people; but a great deal of pomposity and show…. [And] such an itching disposition… to make a display of their witticism, that it seems to us rather a display of folly and show, more than substance and gravity, such as becomes a great nation like ours.” (History of the Church, Vol. 2, Chapter 19, p. 397, 399) Who said that? Come on, there’s somebody in this room who knows who said that.
Let me give you a little clue. He went to the president of the United States, who said, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.” ( p. 402) Joseph Smith. That was his reaction, he was so frustrated with them. And yet, no one believed more in the Constitution. I’ve taken the time to study what every prophet of the Lord in this last dispensation has said, from the time of Joseph Smith to Thomas Monson, about the importance of this vehicle we ride called the United States of America, and this Constitution, which is so important to us. Every one of them, without exception, have talked in detail—I remember sitting at the feet of David O. McKay, and listening to him talk about the importance of the Constitution. I remember as a stake president sitting in a meeting when Spencer W. Kimball was in the stake center talking to all of the stake presidents in Davis County, and talking about how important it was that we take a very active part in what we do in politics.
Abraham Lincoln had a word that he used in his life; it’s called “serendipity.” You know the definition of the term “serendipity”? Serendipity basically means that I will prepare myself, and when the time comes, I will be ready for that opportunity. Winston Churchill said, “What good is it if you don’t prepare yourself and the time comes and you’re not ready to accept it?”
We used to have a man in Congress who would stand up and say, “What God does in His big world, we should learn to do in our small world.” Let me talk about our small world. Have you ever known that person who was the star athlete, he was everything—the valedictorian, he was a 4.0 student, he did everything right, he went to college, went on a mission, he was assistant to the president, he came back, graduated number one in some professional school, married the prettiest girl in town, got on his white horse and rode out to the West? Do you believe that nonsense? Okay, that’s one percent. What happens to the other 99 percent of us? Most of us aren’t that. I’m the president of the Losers Club—the Deseret News called me a loser twice. Of course, I don’t have much respect for the media. I won’t go into that. I apologize, President. But I could spend a long time talking about it.
Also, I was chairman of the Ethics Committee, so I could tell you story after story of how the media just ruined a good person’s reputation, predicated on rumor—only rumor. Time after time we saw that happen. I was so disappointed.
Anyway, most of us weren’t in that category. Most of us struggled along. Can I make a confession to you? I was a lousy student when I first went to the University of Utah. I couldn’t care less about it. I graduated from East High and then I went to the U, and it bored me out of my mind. My dad had a permit to shoot ducks out at the North Point Duck Club, and every afternoon I went out and shot ducks and loved it. I think my average was probably a 1.4, or something like that. And then I went into the Navy. Boy, did I have a rude awakening. In the Navy I learned you had to study, and I learned to study. They sent me to a couple of schools. I was up to be an officer; I was up to be a Navy pilot when the war ended. I’ve never been as mad at anybody as I was at Eisenhower, who ended that war, because I used to dream about flying an F-9 against those MiG-15s. Boy, that was a dream to me that I felt so strong about, that I would be doing that.
As I got older I realized what a stupid dream it was, because in effect, the guy in the MiG-15 wants to kill me, and I’m supposed to kill him, which isn’t such a big deal. Anyway, when I got out of the Navy, I went back up there and there was a doctor who was a counselor, and he got me in there and said, “Well, you’re nothing but a loser.” He said, “Why should we let you back in the University of Utah? The taxpayers are paying for you, and you’re just a bad student. You’re not a good person; you won’t get out, and I think we ought to throw you out and not let you get in.”
I was a little more determined in those days, and I argued with him. I said, “Look, I did very well in the Navy. I got great grades; I was top of my class in a couple of things. I was up to be an officer.” I went on and on.
He said, “Okay, we’ll give you one quarter, and boy, if you don’t do well, we’re throwing you out.”
Well, I did well. I remember I had to get a 4.0 average my senior year just to get out of school, but anyway, I got through that. I thought of that time when I became Speaker of the House. I was chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee; that means after they go through all of the budget that that rotten guy can cut you anywhere he wants to—if he didn’t like you, you, and you, or your schools, he can knock the money right out. And David Pierpont Gardiner was the president of the University of Utah. And David Pierpont Gardiner was up there on his knees asking me for things, because this is the University of Utah. No disrespect, but your father and I have had this discussion many times.
Anyway, I told him at the time, “There’s a certain counselor up on your staff; bring him down. I want him to grovel in front of me.” No, we didn’t do that. That’s a terrible way even to think. I wanted to say to that doctor, and I won’t give you his name, “Hey, I’m now the chief. Even if I’m president of the Losers Club, I’m still the head guy up here. I’m the most powerful legislator in Utah, and I will do what I want to do. I’m going to take half your money away from you.” Now, I didn’t do that—“and give it to Snow College.”
In effect, I did take some money away from them and give it to Snow, because my mother was secretary of the graduating class of 1917 at Snow, and they needed a boiler. They were freezing to death down there. So we took that money and gave it to them.
Another friend of mine, a great friend who is also a member of the Losers Club, is an attorney here in town. He had a certain professor up there, you’d all know his name, who said, “You’ll never get into law school. You haven’t got what it takes. You’ll never make it. You’ll have a menial job all of your life.”
But no, he had the determination. He said, “No, I won’t. I’m going to be a lawyer.” They all laughed him to scorn. He graduated from law school, and three times he has been the Lawyer of the Year in Utah. Three times he has been the Graduate of the Year from the university law class, because he didn’t buy into that. Those of us in the Losers Club can handle things like that. You’ve got to get to the point that you realize you can rise above all that.
Does anybody know who Kieth Merrill is? His dad was my first counselor, and Kieth graduated from the BYU in motion pictures. When he got out, his professor said, “What are you going to do, Kieth?”
He said, “I want to go to Hollywood and make pictures.”
“You can’t do that. There’s no way on earth you can do that. You don’t do that.”
He said, “Yeah, I’m going to.” He took some of his friends, they got in an old beat-up Chev station wagon, they went to Hollywood and starved to death for a while. Finally he got a job doing something for Kaiser Steel, did a documentary. Then he said, “I want to do a documentary on rodeos.” He called it “The Great American Cowboy.” And eventually, you know what he did? He won the Oscar, and as he walked up to get it, the person that was presenting it was Raquel Welch, and they’re a kissing bunch down there, as you know, and he thought in his heart of hearts, “Should I kiss her? And if I do, how do I explain it to my Sunday School class?” And he said, “If I don’t, how do I explain it to my elders quorum?”
Do you want to know? Did he or did he not—I was commencement speaker at a thing at Utah State not long ago, and afterward—I told that story, and afterward, “Did he kiss her or didn’t he kiss her?” Well, he kissed her. Anyway, he’s a normal red-blooded American.
Another thing in the Losers Club you’ve got to look at. How many of you know who Cal Ripken was? Oh, we’ve got some sport, some baseball fans in here. He was a shortstop, and without missing a beat he did 2,632 consecutive games, and when they gave him this award, he had the longest standing ovation in baseball history. People applauded. And what did he do? He just showed up. He just came. He was dependable. He got there.
I’ve hired a lot of people. When I left Congress, I was chairman of two big committees, I was doing things on the Intelligence Committee, and I had more people than I guess I should have—81 people working for me. But I hired them on this: were you dependable? I just knew they knew what was going on, but are you dependable? Will you come? He just showed up. That’s what you’ve got to do in life, too. You just show up, either in work, in church. One of the questions on a temple recommend is “Do you attend your meetings?” You just come, you learn something. And he’s a great example of that.
Also, I think this optimistic spirit that you ought to have. You know, I look at . . . Winston Churchill has always been a great hero of mine. He would probably be a tough guy to know. He was very crusty, and would cut you down a lot, but what a great person. In the dark days of 1940 and ’41, what did he do? He really buoyed up the English people. They were getting bombed and the city was in ruins, and he kept saying, “These are our best years. These are the years we will prove ourselves.” The Brits always say, “Keep a stiff upper lip,” and because of his determination and his leadership, they did it.
Sometimes we use songs, like I mentioned George Cohen and “Over There.” During the Second World War, what was the big song? Does anybody remember that? That’s another thing, you people in the music business, boy those will do a lot for us. What was the big song? Jerome Kern was asked by the president of the United States to write a song to energize the American people. He said, “I’ve written one, Mr. President, but it embarrasses me.” But he said, okay, I’ll put it out. And a lady by the name of Kate Smith—boy, I’m dating anybody in this room who remembers this—but Kate Smith sang this song, and it was “God Bless America.” Remember that one? A lot of people…it was so popular that I was speaking at a high school in Virginia one time, and I asked what the national anthem was, and they said, “God Bless America,” which really amazed me, that it got to that particular poem.
Now, what are the keys to happiness? You know, man is that he might have joy. What are the keys? Ronald Reagan said it was three things: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.  Think about that. I think those things are so important. As chairman of the Ethics Committee, I was asked once by a group of people from other nations who also had their ethics people there, “Mr. Chairman, what are the three things that will get you in trouble in Congress?”
Number one—love of the flesh. Number two—love of money. Number three—love of power. Which one of those do you think is most devastating to a member of Congress? Love of power always came in number one. It would give you tears in your eyes to think of some of your brethren and other people—I had to work with eleven people who went to jail, and some of it was because they couldn’t get money, but most of it was because they were doing things that were totally unethical to move up the line. Go back to the idea of don’t let politics ever get above principle, or you find yourself in big trouble.
Let me just say one thing that I think is very important. In here, and in a religious setting, you know the Lord said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” You hear ad nauseum, every time you go to church and general conference and on and on, keep the commandments of God. Do all these things that are right. Keep the commandments, and then if you don’t, here’s the way to get out, and how you go through repentance and the Atonement of Christ, and all that type of thing. And that is important. Let me take the other side. Let’s go to the secular side of this thing.
Obey the law. Are there some laws you don’t like? Of course there are. I’m living proof you can change the laws, change the ordinances. I’ve changed state laws. I’ve changed federal laws, because they weren’t good laws. But while they’re there, what do you do? “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates.” (Article of Faith 12) Kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates—that covers about every nation. “In obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” The rule of law is what keeps this nation going. We are a nation of laws. You’ve got to obey the laws. Can you pick and choose what laws you want to obey and what you don’t want to obey? Say, “Oh, I like this one, I don’t like the other one”? Some do. Many of those people find themselves in terrible trouble for doing that.
Some of the major laws: Do you believe in paying your taxes? I had people all the time when I was a member of Congress say, “There is nothing in the Constitution says that I have to pay my taxes.” Well, they didn’t read the Constitution very well, because you do have to pay your taxes. Do you like the way it is? I don’t, but I have sure worked hard to change it. I hope we can change the tax laws around to make them fairer, more honest, so people can’t get around it.
What about the little laws? How many of you believe that it’s important to obey the law? How many of you speed? Ha, we’ve got some honest folks here today, don’t we? Even that can be extremely, extremely serious. I was driving through Utah County the other day, in a big construction zone down there, and it said “55 miles an hour.” I was at 55, and I thought I’d be rear-ended every minute. Cars were just zooming around me going down the street. All of them were probably good members of the Church. How come we can say that one’s not important? All right, if you don’t like it, change it. I changed that law at one time. It used to be 55 miles an hour, and me and a fellow named Dick Durbin—you know him, he’s now in the Senate, and a fellow from Oklahoma—we changed it, and it was 55 in restricted areas and 65 in the other areas. And then in the Senate in ’94, Republicans took over and we gave it to the states. Now outside of Fillmore and those areas, you can drive 80 miles an hour. If you’ve got a real muscle car, go out and get on Larry Miller’s thing and roar around there a little bit, but don’t do it other places.
I used to have to adjudicate really bad problems for big insurance companies—fatalities, a lot of very terrible lawsuits. So if you feel anytime you’ve got to run a red light, think about it. You run through that red light and you kill somebody, you’re going to find yourself in two very miserable situations. One is called criminal law; one is called civil law. And it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a very difficult situation for you. I think if anybody should obey the law, we should: “We believe….in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” of the land.
I’ve got six minutes before President Richards pulls me off the stand. I’m going to just tell a little story, and you can go to sleep for this one. It will bore you out of your mind, but I’m going to tell you anyway. When I was a young boy in junior high, I read a book called “Chanco, a U.S. Army Homing Pigeon.” (by Helen Orr Watson, 1938) I was fascinated by it. It was about this pigeon that did tremendous things during the First World War. It would fly across the Channel and take messages in. It was just an awesome thing, like the bird could think like a human being. Anyway, I went to my folks one night, and I lived up by the University of Utah, and had four older sisters. And I told them about Chanco. Their eyes glassed over, of course. Then later on, I went to my folks and said, “What are the chances of me having some homing pigeons?”
“No way. We don’t want those stinking things around here.”
Well, little boys are very persistent. Finally my dad said, “Look. You go out behind the garage, you clean up that mess back there, and build a coop back there, and if you have some—you can only have two—and we don’t ever hear them or smell them or know they’re there, you can have two.”
I immediately found a book on how to have a pigeon coop. I studied that book. I scrounged up the lumber. I built this coop, and I finally got it done. Then I went down to Bailey’s Feed and Seed in Salt Lake that used to be there, and I got this kind of diet they had. I had to read this whole book on the diet you feed them—certain kinds of green pea, and corn, and red wheat. I got that, and then finally I was ready for the big day and I got on my bicycle and I rode all the way out—in those days, there was nothing out there, out to Spring Run on 13th East, because I knew there was a professional man out there that had the greatest homing pigeons in the west. I went to this big house, and there were his coops out back, and I geared up—I had my speech all ready. I knocked on the door, and this huge guy—he must have been six foot eight—and I can’t remember his name now, but I called him by name and said, “My name is Jimmy Hansen, and I read this book, “Chanco, a U.S. Army Homing Pigeon.”
He said, “Wasn’t that a great book? I bet you want to see my birds, don’t you?”
I said, “Yes, sir, I do.”
He said, “First I want to show you my trophy room.” I went in there and he had all these trophies. He said, “What we do is we send them down on the railroad, and the first place they go is Spanish Fork. They let them out at the station; they give us a message of when they let them out, and the first bird through is the winner.” Then they went on to Cedar City, St. George, then Las Vegas, then Barstow, California.”
These were beautiful birds. He let a few of them out, and they circled around and he whistled and they came back to the trap. I was enthralled with the idea. He said, “I know you want some, don’t you?”
I said, “Yes, sir, I surely do.”
“They’re very expensive. They’re five dollars each.”
Five dollars each in those days was a lot of money. I said, “Will you save me two?”
He said, “I’ve got an older two that would make great birds for you, and they’ll have some real good young ones.” So I went home, I went up to the University of Utah after the ball games, and I picked up all of the bottles. We used to get two cents for the little ones, and five cents for the big ones. I used to mow lawns. I was tending kids—I was getting five cents an hour for that. And finally I had enough money and I got on my bicycle and peddled out there, and he wrenched the thing on the handlebars and said, “When you get home, let the hen out and after about three months, every time you feed her, whistle. When she gets out, she may make two circles and come straight out here.”
Sure enough, she did, and I went out and got her, and I let the male out, and he did the same thing. I knew every rut in the road between my house, all the way out there and back. Finally they stayed. They had two young, and amazingly enough, that first time I set them out there, they won. I had a little bird called Crow, and in the interim period I got more birds and I built a bigger coop. My parents were proud of me; even my sisters took their boyfriends out to show them these birds.
I had this little bird called Crow, and I sent her to St. George. I told all my friends, I said, “Crow is just going to wipe everybody out.” She was built like an F-16. She’ll go—she was there, and she never showed up. I don’t know what happened to her. Well, I do. About six weeks later, we were playing football out in the road, and this bedraggled bunch of feathers came walking up the road. And it was Crow. Wow, if the bird could speak, wouldn’t you like to know what had happened to her? Maybe she was shot. She had a broken wing. A hawk could have got her; she could have hit a wire. She must have walked home, or she jumped on a pickup truck or something. I don’t know how she got home, but she made it home.
I came home one day when I was in high school, and I was doing very well in the pigeon business. I came home and every bird was gone. Somebody had broken down the door and stolen every bird in there. It got in all the papers; the police came up. I was devastated. That summer I went up to work in Idaho at a relative’s farm. I came home in the fall and I noticed kind of a funny look on my dad’s face and my brother-in-law’s.  So I went out back. I went out back, and where the pigeon coop had been had all been taken out, and there was a whole row of hutches. And in those hutches were ugly animals with big long ears hopping around, and there was also a little thing of ceramic for their pellets, a little water, and something. About 20 white rabbits in those pens.
They said, “Well, what do you think?”
I said, “Well, thank you, I guess.” It was interesting. Boy, do they stink, did you know that? And are they stupid. They’re so dumb they eat their hutches. They just ate their hutches, and the place smelled out there. I remember looking out the back window once and the neighbor’s dog was chasing one of them around. I was rooting for the dog.
Okay, in a short time—I don’t know where they went. In a short time they were all gone. All there was was a dilapidated mess out there. I like to tell that story at Eagle Courts. And I ask, “What’s the difference between the pigeons and the rabbits?” Think about it. I wrapped myself in the pronoun “I” when I told you about the pigeons. I did it. I built the coop. I knew about them. I knew everything—I knew every feather in their wing, if one of them was gone. I knew everything about them. I lived, breathed—I kept genealogy on them. I kept everything on them. I knew everything about them. I did it.
Now, what did I do for the rabbits? Nothing. See the difference? That’s your life, that we’re talking about. That’s this country. You do it. You vote today! You did it. You say, “Well, my little vote doesn’t mean anything.” You don’t understand how this system works. If everybody did that, no one would get elected. I can tell you—I can count ten times where it came down to three votes, in big elections.
Anyway, that’s the difference. You do it. I’m counting on you. What was it that Winston Churchill said the last time he spoke to Parliament? He walked in, with a cane, and in his British accent he just said these words. You’ve heard them many times. “Never give up. Never, never give up.”
Thank you for allowing me to be with you. I say this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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