Like his predecessor, Gov. Gary Herbert is relying on a formal group of advisers that includes business and community leaders.
But unlike former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Herbert has added a pair of political rivals within the GOP to what he's now calling the Governor's Advisory Team.
The team is a no-cost version of Huntsman's Utah Policy Partnership, originally organized in 2005 as a nonprofit organization with a $150,000 budget and a managing director on the payroll.
Herbert has kept business leaders Scott Anderson, Dinesh Patel, Steve Starks and Greg Miller, as well as community advocate Pamela Atkinson, on his team.
New to the roster are Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie and University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Kirk Jowers. Both considered challenging Herbert in 2010.
Neither, though, chose to run against the governor in next year's special election to fill the remainder of Huntsman's term. The winner of that race will be up for reelection in 2012, just two years later.
The governor said his decision to include Beattie and Jowers in his inner circle has nothing to do with politics.
"Anybody in my position would want to have the best and brightest around him," Herbert said. "They may want to run against me down the road. That's something they'll have to decide."
The team is intended to be a sounding board, the governor said. "I think it's easy to get isolated up here," he said. "I don't want to have people around me who just agree with me, who are 'yes' people."
At their first meeting with both new members last week, the team focused on Herbert's budget. It's his first big test as governor since taking office in August.
He's set to deliver his proposed spending plan for the state on Dec. 11 and has pledged not to raise taxes despite a looming shortfall of as much as $850 million.
Some lawmakers are already talking about the need for so-called targeted tax hikes of some $100 million next session. Even the Chamber has chimed in, with Beattie calling for temporary boosts in gas and other taxes.
"It's clearly a number-one issue with me as we're getting ready to roll that out," Herbert said, adding he was willing to listen to Beattie's proposal. "We're not as far off as people think."
Beattie, a former state Senate president who is heading Herbert's advisory team, said he's not there to drive his own agenda.
"It's to have a small, confidential group that the governor can be forthright with in his discussions and the business community can be forthright in their own opinions," Beattie said.
He said he believes the governor values the opinions of the team members. "We give advice to him about the budget," Beattie said. "He's the guy who gets to make the decision."
Herbert already has a group of community advisers working on a more specific task, optimizing state government. Led by former Gov. Norm Bangerter, the commission is scheduled to complete its work next year.
The team is more like the "Kitchen Cabinets," informal advisers who offer political leaders their opinions on a wide range of topics. Such advisers are seldom identified publicly.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the public at least knows the members of the more formalized groups created by Huntsman and Herbert, even though they meet privately.
Such groups can be influential, Burbank said. "Obviously, if you're in this group, you not only have the ear of the governor, you have the trust of the governor," he said. "What you say is going to have some impact."
He called the addition of Beattie and, especially, Jowers comparable to Democratic President Barack Obama's choosing Huntsman, a Republican said to be eyeing the White House, as U.S. ambassador to China.
Having advisers who may have their own political motives "changes the dynamic," Burbank said. Still, he said, "it's encouraging Gov. Herbert has enough sense and the security of his own position" to include rivals.
Starks, who started with Huntsman's group as a paid manager, said Beattie and Jowers agreed to join Herbert's team "with really good motives. They know that by participating in this process, they are advising and supporting the Herbert administration."
The group was formed after the 2004 election, with the late Larry Miller as chairman, to finish work started by Huntsman's transition team, including creating a new "scorecard" system to judge the work of state agencies.
Huntsman solicited contributions for his group and hired consultants, but Starks said that ended after about 18 months. Starks, who went to work for the then-chairman of the group, the late Larry Miller, then-owner of the Utah Jazz, said meetings were much less frequent through the rest of Huntsman's time in office.
"It's far more informal now," Starks said of Herbert's team. "There's some good, spirited dialogue. People don't hold back about stuff."
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