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Doug Robinson: Pat Jones: Starting over

Published: Tuesday, May 6 2014 6:36 p.m. MDT

“She could run any research firm, both qualitative and quantitative,” says Dan Jones. “To do survey research, you’ve really got to know the subject you’re researching. She would read constantly about the product or the candidates we were studying and the areas we were polling, such as voting history and turnout. And she’s very good in focus groups in engaging people and getting them to express themselves.”

They began in 1980 with a two-room office and two employees — Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Eventually, they hired Dan’s former teacher’s assistant at USU, Dianne Meppen, and the company thrived without ever borrowing money. With three young kids and a growing business, Pat would sometimes stay up all night typing numbers and quantifying research. There were no computers in those days.

“I look back now and wonder how I did that,” says Jones, who also completed a journalism degree in 1993. “But I always knew it would work. Always.”

Maybe a political career was inevitable. Her profession required her to listen to and understand people and their behavior. She also conducted research for several political campaigns. In 1999, Jan Graham, Utah’s attorney general at the time, called to ask Jones to run for the Legislature. Jones resisted, but Graham called daily for about 10 days until Jones relented.

“I knocked on doors and worked hard ’cause I loved it,” she says. “I enjoyed the people. I never thought I’d win.”

She would run for the Legislature five times and win five times, serving six years in the House and eight in the Senate.

“The work on the Hill and my work (at Dan Jones) have been symbiotic,” she says. “When I’m voting, I’ve probably researched the issue, which makes me confident in my vote. My job (at Dan Jones) is understanding how people feel about issues. We measure it everyday. I have researched 95 percent of the issues we address up there. I don’t have to wonder what the public thinks about it.” Fellow legislators frequently ask her, “Have you done research on (a certain issue)?"

Notwithstanding, she pushed legislation she knew wouldn't be popular. She ran a bill that would eliminate the income tax deduction for dependents (read: children) as a way to collect an extra $400 million for education. Predictably, the bill never got off the ground, but she thinks it marked progress. “I knew it wouldn’t pass,” she says, “but it’s completely changed the dialogue, which we needed to do. I’ve been told by key legislators that the work I’ve done on that bill has changed the dynamic on education spending.”

Jones also sponsored bills that effected the following changes: require parents to accompany minors to tanning salons, improve the state’s high school literacy education by certifying teachers to teach the subject and requiring a final exam, and increase education for doctors about the dangers of narcotics and substance abuse. She also helped draft legislation that puts more teeth in laws designed to protect senior citizens from fraud, abuse and neglect.

With all that behind her, Jones will leave the Senate at the end of the year and turn to something new. “I’m not sure, but I don’t see myself retiring,” she says. “There’s too much to do.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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