Utah's newest U.S. senator Mike Lee picks chief of staff

Published: Sunday, Nov. 14 2010 10:53 p.m. MST

Mike and Sharon Lee attend the Republican party gathering at the Salt Lake Hilton on election night.

Scott G. Winerton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's newest U.S. senator has picked a prominent state lobbyist to serve as his chief of staff.

Republican Sen.-elect Mike Lee asked Spencer Stokes this past week to lead his Washington staff and coordinate his transition from candidate to senator.

"He has an encyclopedic knowledge of Utah politics," Lee said of Stokes. "He has a good strategic mind and I like him."

A longtime presence on Utah's Capitol Hill, Stokes currently is registered to lobby for 18 organizations, including the Utah League of Credit Unions and the Utah Association of Energy Users, along with other energy interests and a private prison company.

The former executive director of the Utah GOP also has lobbied at the federal level for Weber State University, Weber County, and Engineering and Software Systems Solutions — a small defense contractor where he focused on federal funding and earmarks.

Stokes said he and Lee have discussed Lee's campaign promise to forgo all earmarks during his first year in office.

"I completely understand his position and I share it," Stokes said. "There's got to be some reform and I am hoping we can be leaders in that."

Stokes also said he believes his lobbying relationships have provided him with insight into key policy areas including transportation, corrections and health care.

"I know a lot about those industries that I represent," he said. "I will approach this in a fashion that is honorable and with integrity. My clients will do it the same way. They understand the relationship and know it has changed now."

Lee and Stokes first met when Lee worked for Utah's former Gov. Jon Huntsman. The two crossed paths again when Stokes worked as a lobbyist for 1-800-Contacts and Lee served as the company's general counsel. Both also worked for EnergySolutions. Stokes is still registered to lobby for the company, which operates a radioactive waste landfill in Utah's west desert.

Stokes begins his new job on Jan. 5. He said he'll soon begin a series of trips to Washington to set up Lee's senate office and hire staff, while he begins to shut down his Utah lobbying firm.

"It will be an exciting time to be back in D.C.," said Stokes, adding that Republicans are now positioned to make an impact on areas both he and Lee agree are important. "I have similar beliefs and views on the federal debt, the deficit, the federal government getting too big."

Before becoming a lobbyist in 1999, Stokes served as chairman of the Weber County Commission and was the executive director of the state GOP.

Lee also has named David Barlow, a partner at the international law firm Sidley Austin, as his chief counsel. Barlow is a graduate of Yale and Brigham Young University. Lee says he'll lean on Barlow in vetting judicial nominations.

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