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Gov. Herbert looks to Washington for new chief of staff

Published: Tuesday, May 27 2014 7:01 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert's new chief of staff, Justin Harding, is already used to the title. He's filled the same role for Rep. Jason Chaffetz for more than five years following stints with two other Republican congressmen from Utah.

Harding is scheduled to take over the post from Derek Miller on June 16. Miller, the latest of a half-dozen key officials to leave the governor's office since last fall, was named last month to head the World Trade Center Utah.

"This was an unexpected and unanticipated opportunity," Harding told the Deseret News Tuesday, following the announcment from the governor's office. "We couldn't be more giddy about it....We're returning to a state and people that we love."

Harding, who will oversee the GOP governor's staff and serve as his top advisor, said he hopes he can expect stability in the office after changes in positions including lieutenant governor, general counsel and spokesman.

"I'm coming into this brand-new," Harding said, even though he already knows a number of Herbert's appointees. "I am not signaling any kind of change in tone or approach or staff or anything like that. I'm the new guy."

The governor's spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said the turnover the office has experienced is normal.

"I don't think there's anything to really read into it other than it's something that happens in all administrations," Carpenter said. "It's healthy not to necessarily have lifers in there."

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and an advisor to Herbert, said the resignations that started with former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell last fall all made sense on a personal basis.

"I think the most successful governors do shed their people to great opportunities," Jowers said. "It just seems to be a very natural part of the game in gubernatorial administrations."

Bell, who was elected with Herbert twice since 2010, left government for more opportunity and money. The governor appointed his then-general counsel, John Pearce, to the Utah Court of Appeals.

Ally Isom, who stepped down as the governor's deputy chief of staff and spokeswoman, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints public affairs office.

Robert Spendlove, who had been Herbert's director of federal policy, was elected to fill a vacant seat in the Utah Legislature. Education advisor Christine Kearl also left the office earlier this year.

Jowers said Harding is a good choice as chief of staff because of his extensive Washington experience.

Harding, a southern Utah native, spent nearly 14 years in the nation's capitol, starting as an intern with former Rep. Jim Hansen and working for Rep. Rob Bishop before heading up Chaffetz' staff.

"He really understands how Washington, D.C. works. He's respected there," Jowers said of Harding. "He knows who the right people are on issues and how the sausage is made."

That's especially important , Jowers said, because Herbert is in line to head the National Governors Association and is increasingly focused on several federal issues, including Medicaid expansion and the administration of public lands in Utah.

Chaffetz, who himself was a chief of staff to former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. before running for Congress, said Herbert chose well.

"He's got good taste. Justin is rock solid. He'll do great there," Chaffetz said. "He understands the federal part but Justin Harding truly understands rural Utah. It's where he was raised and its' the issue he's worked on for 10-plus years."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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