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Tom Hatch

ST. GEORGE — GOP gubernatorial candidate Marty Stephens decided to split the state geographically Tuesday. The northern Utah native picked a fellow Utah legislator, Sen. Tom Hatch of Panguitch, as his lieutenant governor running mate.

As other governor candidates said this spring in naming their ticket-mates, Stephens said his first priority was tapping a person who could step into the top job if need be.

"No one who has worked with Tom doubts he has the capacity to be governor; they admire his leadership style," said Stephens, who is speaker of the Utah House.

But beyond that, Stephens said he and Hatch "are close friends, who share the same work ethic, style and beliefs."

"I looked at what President Bush did in picking his vice presidential running mate. He picked a man (Vice President Dick Cheney) who could be president but who came from Wyoming — not much political help" in that geographic region, said Stephens.

"You pick someone you are comfortable with. That said, no one can remember a governor or lieutenant governor who was living in rural Utah" when they were elected. And it's time for that, too, Stephens said.

Hatch, 52, is a member of the Cowboy Caucus, a group of rural Utah lawmakers who routinely battle federal land managers, environmentalists and city slickers who don't know which side of the horse to mount from. He's a 10-year legislative veteran who previously served as Garfield County commissioner.

But Hatch is also a successful small businessman, running a ranching operation, a title company and a real estate development firm. He's a longtime pilot who flies his own small airplane around his large southern Utah Senate district.

With his aw-shucks drawl and easygoing manner, Hatch is universally liked by colleagues. With Hatch serving in the House, GOP senators in their 2001 redistricting drew Hatch his own south-central Senate district, which he won easily.

Hatch said Stephens sought his advice months ago on possible running mates and asked if he would be interested. Hatch said, at the time, he thought the pair were "too much alike."

Asked Tuesday what changed his mind, Hatch said, "Time, more than anything."

"When (Stephens) called me on Sunday, we went over a list (of potential running mates). Then he said, 'Let me tell you who I'd like to pick — Tom Hatch.' I was speechless at first, even though I had a premonition he was going to ask me. He's someone I've never said 'no' to," Hatch said, adding that Stephens "could have picked others who are more popular. He could see I was someone he could work well with."

Hatch's bushy mustache is a trademark.

Hatch several years ago trimmed his upper lip too much near the end of a 45-day general session and decided to cut the whole mustache off. Some fellow representatives didn't even recognize him when he walked on to the chamber floor. He quickly regrew it.

Even though Hatch hails from Garfield County, population 4,735, Stephens clearly picked him as a geographic balance; a counter to lieutenant governor picks of the House speaker's main opponents in the May 8 state GOP convention.

Gov. Olene Walker, an Ogden native and longtime Salt Lake City resident, decided to stick with Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie, a Uinta Basin attorney.

Fred Lampropoulos picked Brigham City Mayor Lou Ann Christensen, shoring up the Salt Lake County native's northern border.

Nolan Karras, Stephens' northern Utah next-door neighbor, picked Enid Greene from Salt Lake County.

And Jon Huntsman Jr., also from Salt Lake County, picked Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert.

So southern Utah was wide open. And Stephens stepped in with Hatch, who may be able to help Stephens survive the critical May 8 state GOP convention.

But Hatch doesn't add much balance politically. Both Stephens and Hatch are legislators known for their conservative voting. Hatch sponsored SB154 in the 2003 Legislature, a sweeping bill aimed at fundamental change in how public schools operate.

"We're both conciliatory. We get along with people we disagree with. But we have strong beliefs, that's a good match for governing the state," Stephens said. "We're people of principle."

GrassRoots, a conservative group that ranks lawmakers' work each session, just gave Stephens a good 76 percent rating on 2004 votes, while Hatch gets a 67 percent rating, also a fine conservative mark.

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