SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Olene Walker, Utah's first female governor, will seek a full term in the November election, she announced Saturday.
"There are still things that need to be done in Utah," Walker told reporters at a news conference in her Capitol office. "We need a little more time to complete the task."
Walker, 73, succeeded Gov. Mike Leavitt in November following his appointment as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Walker served as Leavitt's lieutenant governor for 11 years.
It didn't take long for the Republican governor to cross members of her own party after taking the reins. Walker swept into office with an ambitious proposal for education funding, proposing a nearly $116 million addition to the state's $2.1 billion education budget. She also offered a state budget that would divert money from once-sacred road funds to pay for an increase in education funding, which lawmakers implacably resisted.
Walker spoke positively Saturday of working with the Legislature. She said she hadn't made her final decision until after the 45-day session was over.
"I found out that they respected what I had to say," Walker said of the Legislature.
Walker counts securing the funds for a state reading program as one of her greatest accomplishments in the session, her first with a pulpit and veto pen. The Legislature agreed to pony up $15 million of a $30 million initiative to help first through third grade students achieve reading skills at or above grade level by the end of the third grade.
However, she joins an already crowded field of gubernatorial candidates.
In addition to Walker, GOP hopefuls include former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen, businessman Fred Lampropoulos, House Speaker Marty Stephens, industrialist Jon Huntsman Jr., state Board of Regents Chairman Nolan Karras, Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert, and State Sen. Parley Hellewell. University of Utah law school dean Scott Matheson Jr. is seeking the Democratic nomination.
Joe Cannon, chair of the Utah Republican Party, said Walker's incumbent status and long history in politics could make her tough to beat.
"Nobody's ever had more training than she's had," he said. "I think she'll be a formidable candidate."
Jason Chaffetz, Huntsman's campaign manager, said Walker would add a "positive dynamic" to the race. He said her entrance wouldn't affect Huntsman's campaign strategy, which would remain focused on jobs and the economy.
Stephens said Saturday that he considered Walker a friend and a "good candidate."
"This is difficult in that many of us who are friends find ourselves in the same race," he said.
Walker's announcement came two days before the opening of Utah's election filing period. The deadline for filing is March 17. Walker plans to file papers on Monday, spokeswoman Amanda Covington said.
"I love what I'm doing," Walker said. "I love the challenges of solving problems."
After 11 years in Leavitt's shadow, Walker's first few months in office were packed with headlines.
In late January, she fended off questions about the state's role in a controversial anti-terrorism database known as Matrix, after complaints that Utah had stealthily joined the multistate program that critics said threatened privacy.
Walker was elected to four state House of Representatives terms during the 1980s.
She has said that she considered running for governor in the '80s, but decided against it after research showed that a female candidate in historically patriarchal Utah would automatically lose 12 percent of the vote.
However, she said Saturday that the poll was old and no longer relevant.
"I think the world and Utah have changed since that poll," she said.
She accepted Leavitt's invitation to run as lieutenant governor in 1992, nixing a run for U.S. Congress in the 2nd District.
Though considered my many Capitol observers as a shrewd politician, Walker has radiated a folksy public persona and a playful sense of humor.
During her inauguration, ad-libbing her first words as Utah governor, Walker noted it had snowed in the Salt Lake City area for six straight days. "We've spent the last week working on the drought, and we've been somewhat successful," she cracked.
Asked repeatedly how her husband of 49 years, Myron, would be addressed, Walker suggested the state could save money by simply scratching off the "y" on the first lady's office downstairs from hers in the Capitol. The gold lettering on the door later read, "Programs of the First Lad."
Myron Walker also appeared at the news conference, telling reporters that he stood behind Walker's run because she's passionate about her agenda.
"There's still some fire in the belly," he said.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)