Bill Wright at home in McCornick, Utah
In his first 16 years in the Legislature, Wright didn’t have to think much about immigration. “It just wasn’t an issue,” he says. Wright served in the House from 1989 to 2000 and then the Senate for one term before returning full time to dairy farming in 2005, when he moved his farm from Elberta on the southern tip of Utah Lake to McCornick, a Millard County ghost town that existed for all of a decade before the Great Depression.
Wright departed the capitol with no intention to return. “I’m the kind of guy that can come home and exempt myself from the politics,” he says. But in the rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate, he discerned an indifference toward what he saw as common sense.
Wright doesn’t have a lot of employees on his farm—six or seven each year—but he knew how much his neighbors and constituents rely on immigrant labor. He doesn’t believe anyone who says U.S. citizens would do these jobs. That’s not to mention the families being torn apart by the nation’s blundering immigration enforcement efforts.
Apathy to their plight, Wright felt, was a violation of his very faith. “I remember thinking, ‘If I were up there, I could fix this,’” he says.
In 2009, he would get that chance.
When Wright returned to the capitol, it was hardly with a mandate. Before coalescing around the farmer, fellow Republicans needed 16 ballots and five hours of debate during a special caucus meeting held to replace Rep. Bradley Winn, who had resigned his seat to take a job at the University of Utah. Wright laid low in his first session back in the Legislature, -reserving numbers for two bills he never filled with any text and co-sponsoring two non-immigration-related bills pushed by Representatives Steve Sandstrom and Carl Wimmer.
Wright brushes off the notion he might have had aims at influencing two of Utah’s most powerful anti-illegal immigration crusaders. “I don’t make deals,” he says. “All I expect is a chance to stand up and articulate my point of view. And if I can’t make a good argument, I don’t expect you to vote for it.”