In other highlights, straight Mormons marched in a Gay Pride Parade, eager shoppers marched to a new "Mormon mall," ferocious fires marched through hundreds of thousands of acres and USU's football team marched to its best season ever.
Here are some snapshots from 2012:
Winning big, losing big
He rolled to a second term, but got rolled in Utah. He racked up 332 electoral votes (nabbing eight of nine so-called swing states) but lost all 29 counties in the Beehive State even the three (Salt Lake, Summit and Grand) he won four years ago. He outpaced his opponent by more than 4 million votes in the nationwide popular tally, but fell shy of 10 percent in eight (mostly rural) Utah counties and failed to top 25 percent statewide. Still, getting skunked in Utah did nothing to tarnish the sweet smell of victory on election night for President Barack Obama.
For the love of Mitt
In Utah, he has never been a mayor or a governor, a councilman or a congressman. In fact, he's never been elected here. His highest-profile post in the Beehive State was an appointment and a temporary one, at that. Still, this former Massachusetts governor is arguably Utah's favorite politician, thanks largely to his Mormon pedigree and his leadership of Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympics. As the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, he locked up nearly 73 percent of Utah's votes (the highest percentage of any state) and secured the fourth-largest margin of victory of any White House hopeful in state history. Yes, Utah's adopted son won't be sitting in the Oval Office, but Mitt Romney did land squarely in the history books as the first LDS candidate ever to top a major-party ticket.
Her life touched those around her. Her death touched a nation. One of 20 children gunned down in a Newtown, Conn., grade school, she became known as the Utah native who was pretty in pink and even prettier in personality. She loved to draw her bedroom had become a makeshift art studio. She loved words, getting in, her dad says, a "lifetime of talking" in her six short years. Above all, she loved people. She reached out to her peers (taking pains, for instance, to ensure a discouraged classmate got the perfect birthday gift). She reached up to her parents (drawing a special "I'm sorry" card for her father just because she had stayed up past her bedtime). She reached down to her two younger sisters (hugging them if they cried while her parents were cooking dinner). She even crafted a card for her grandfather to be placed in his coffin. Now Emilie Parker rests next to him in an Ogden cemetery.
Where there's smoke, there's Utah
They fled the flames by the hundreds and even thousands in places like Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, Herriman and Alpine as Utah endured a wild wildfire season. The state's interagency fire information service put the final toll at more than 1,450 fires, scarring 466,000-plus acres and costing the state upward of $60 million. Lightning set off the majority of the blazes, but humans (including target shooters and fireworks fans) caused more than 600 fires, triggering limits on gun use in the outdoors.
His presence in Congress has always been precarious. He is Blue Dog Democrat in a rock-red state. Despite his roots in a popular Utah political family, he is remarkably unpopular with partisans on the far left and right. Every time redistricting rolls around, Republicans slap a "kick me" sign on this back before shuffling the boundaries and stacking the deck against him. But, like Houdini, he manages, time after time, to escape. Surely 2012 would be different, though. Republicans ran a rising star, a mayor from a small Utah County city who, as an African-American woman with an inspiring back story, could cut into her opponent's centrist coalition. She had big money from donors (raising nearly $2.3 million), a big stage from the party (including a prime-time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention) and a big name at the top of the ticket (Utah's favorite adopted son, Mitt Romney). But, in the priciest House race in state history (more than $10 million from the candidates and outside groups), Jim Matheson eked out a victory to represent Utah's newly created 4th District.
Love's labor lost
She seemed to come out of nowhere and nearly wound up really going somewhere namely, the U.S. Congress. This suburban mom turned neighborhood activist went on to become a City Council member and the state's first black female mayor. A daughter of Haitian immigrants, she wowed the Utah Republican Convention in the spring, besting better-known GOP rivals, to win the right to take on a six-term Democratic congressman in the newly created 4th District in the fall. She gave him the biggest battle of his political career, matching him dollar for dollar (millions of them), endorsement for endorsement (hundreds of them), and ad for ad (dozens of them). She amassed 119,035 votes. That's 100,000-plus more than the city of 18,000 she oversees, but Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love fell 768 votes short.
The dark night was about to get darker, the wintry chill was about to grow colder, and a routine Ogden pot bust was about to turn deadly. Members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were serving a knock-and-announce search warrant Jan. 4, when a shootout erupted. By the time the guns fell silent, six officers were down. One later died. The accused assailant, Matthew David Stewart, was charged with capital murder and a slew of other felonies. The dead officer, 30-year-old Jared Francom, known for his quick wit and keen sense of duty, left behind a wife and two daughters.
Downtown rising's Main event
Salt Lake City's downtown revved up its Renaissance in 2012. But don't think Michelangelo, think Michael Kors. Don't gaze at a frescoed ceiling, but at a retractable roof. Don't look for a Catholic cathedral, but a "Mormon mall." The $2 billion Main Street enterprise with dozens of stores, hundreds of housing units and thousands of parking spaces debuted in March and brought back shoppers and their dollars to the heart of Utah's capital. The dawn of City Creek Center also saw the sunset of one of its guiding lights: H. David Burton, who stepped aside as the LDS Church's presiding bishop just nine days after the shopping center opened and 16 years after taking the helm of the faith's business affairs.
Hatch's senior moment
When he takes the oath for a historic seventh time, he will be the GOP's senior U.S. senator. Two years ago, that prospect looked in serious jeopardy. Conventional wisdom held that he could become the next Bob Bennett, the three-term senator bounced at the Republican State Convention in 2010. But, no, he survived April's GOP gathering (this time packed with more moderates and more Mormons), dispatched a former state senator, Dan Liljenquist, in June's primary and then thumped another former state senator, Scott Howell, in November's finale. Spending a record $12 million on the campaign certainly helped. Now the 78-year-old Orrin Hatch, the only U.S. senator from Utah to serve more than five terms, is pledging that his last six-year term will be his best.
Voters send a 'Dear Jon'
Some say his moderate views are just what the GOP needs to take off in 2016 and land a Republican back in the White House. But they sure didn't fly in 2012. Ultimately, all they got him after months of campaigning and millions in spending were lots of TV time, some laudatory ink and a bronze medal in the New Hampshire primary (the make-or-break contest former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was counting on to propel him to presidential gold).
Powell tragedy deepens
The fate of Susan Cox Powell remains a mystery today more so than ever. The only person of interest named by police in her disappearance, her husband, is dead. Josh Powell took his own life by torching a rented home in Washington state in February in a monstrous blaze that also killed the couple's two sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5. West Valley City police are still probing the missing-person case and have repeatedly refused to turn over investigative files to reporters and Susan's kin. All eyes for possible answers now rest on Josh's father, Steve Powell, who fantasized about his daughter-in-law and was convicted on 14 voyeurism charges. He is due out of prison in May.
March of a new Mormon battalion
Hundreds of Utah Mormons arose on the first Sunday in June with the following on their to-do lists: pray, read scriptures, attend church meetings, march in Gay Pride Parade. With that last entry, a typical Sabbath took an atypical twist as straight Latter-day Saints more than 300 men, women and children donned their Sunday best to show their support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. The grass-roots group behind the march in downtown Salt Lake City and other U.S. cities hopes such outreach efforts will help heal wounds and close gaps between the LDS and LGBT camps. The church itself took an institutional step toward that end earlier this month, unveiling a website mormonsandgays.org to soften Mormon rhetoric about homosexuality while maintaining a hard line against same-sex marriage. But it was the headline-grabbing march by a modern-day Mormon battalion that earned the foot soldiers in Mormons Building Bridges top honors as The Salt Lake Tribune's Utahns of the Year.
Joy in Aggie-ville and then ...
Here is a two-minute drill on Utah State University's 2012 football season: Edge rival Utah in overtime, drop a heartbreaker at Wisconsin, win 10 games for the first time in school history, win the final conference crown in WAC football history, win a bowl game with a late scoring burst lose coach. Even an up year ends on a downer. After amassing an 18-8 record the past two seasons, Gary Andersen couldn't resist the lure and the loot of taking over at a big-time, Big 10 powerhouse: the same Wisconsin team USU had come within a botched boot of beating. It's enough to turn even the most devout Aggie into an ag-nostic. On a positive note, though, quarterback sensation Chuckie Keeton will be back next season, when new head coach Matt Wells leads USU into the Mountain West Conference.
Badge of dishonor?
It's a classic case of good cop, bad cop. But this one may involve only one officer. She was the Utah Highway Patrol's Trooper of the Year in 2007, stopping more than 2,000 cars and piling up more than 200 DUI busts. Then, in 2012, two state judges determined she lied on the witness stand and a 2010 memo surfaced, suggesting she trumped up charges against motorists. Attorneys began filing lawsuits alleging wrongful arrests and the FBI launched a civil-rights investigation. Former UHP Cpl. Lisa Steed has been stripped of her gun and her badge for now and UHP is in the process of firing her.
The verdict few saw coming
Call it a "Matlock" moment. In mid-August, a Utah jury of five men and three women deliberated for eight hours before delivering a verdict so surprising it would rival that of any TV drama. The defendant had been charged with killing Millard County Sheriff's Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox and had confessed to the 2010 crime. But, at trial, he took the witness stand and fingered Fox's brother, Ryan Greathouse, who died of an overdose a few months after the shooting. The defendant said he initially confessed to the police because Ryan Greathouse had threatened his family. Doubts took root, and jurors cleared the defendant of murder but convicted him of two lesser felonies. In the end, Roberto Miramontes Román who the judge said "got away with murder" was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Big Ben's McVictory
Remember this candidate's catchy ads? "Fiscal conservative Democrat, with Republican support; law professor, who teaches Sunday school; Eagle Scout, not Eagle Forum." Now, remember his catchphrase? "Yeah, he's different." Maybe so, but the partisan makeup of Salt Lake County government will be anything but different (save for a pair of new faces) a Democrat in the mayor's chair and a 5-4 Republican edge on the County Council. Time will tell whether the mayor-electwill govern differently than his predecessor, Peter Corroon, but Ben McAdams' aggressive, good-natured, and well-funded campaign proved effective, scoring points from political observers and votes from county residents.
Life and death of an alleged date-rapist
He saw himself as a political player on Utah's Republican team. He met with the likes of Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Gov. Gary Herbert, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz and congressional hopeful Mia Love. He showed off photos of himself with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. But police say the 37-year-old Orem man was a serial date-rapist. They charged him in July with 25 counts of assault, rape and kidnapping in alleged attacks on four women he met through Mormon dating websites. More charges followed from a fifth alleged victim. In October, though, just days after bailing out of jail, Greg Peterson penned a five-page letter proclaiming his innocence and shot himself to death at his Heber City cabin.