He is two men, really.
Certainly, there are two faces for the two very public arenas in which Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt does business.And while one may grant him a third term in office and notable status as the most popular governor in Utah's history, the other countenance may lead him away from the Beehive State and into the national political spotlight.
A new post for Leavitt may bring him closer to a decision - or maybe a melding - between the two personalities.
"Our past is both grandiose and gritty," Leavitt told Utahns on the first day of the new year. "But tonight, as we celebrate the state of this great state, let us lift our eyes to the horizon beyond our time."
This is Mike Leavitt, homespun governor.
He is Iron County born and raised. This is the man who called 80-year-old Elloyd Marchant of Cedar City on Feb. 11 just to say hello, just as he has every year on the birthday the two share.
He gets a haircut every three weeks. He loves the Utah Jazz and goes walking with his wife a couple of days a week at noon.
Inside Utah, Leavitt, 47, is Mr. Pioneer. One moment, he's at Bountiful's "Handcart Days," the next he's honoring "Take Pride in Utah Day" at This Is the Place State Park. Soon after, he's headlining the "Days of 47" parade followed by a "pioneer luncheon" at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
He is also Mr. Legacy Highway. And Mr. Head Cheerleader for the freeway construction that has eviscerated roadways all along the Wasatch Front.
"Let's all be patient; let's keep our cool," Leavitt tells Utahns. "Sure, we all get a little ornery about it now and then, but look to the future. Look what we're doing for our kids. Look at our legacy."
He's fighting hard against a temporary nuclear waste storage facility in Tooele County; fighting for Utah lands confiscated by the federal government; fighting for a Western states presidential primary, and fighting his way away from the controversial lifestyle of modern-day polygamists who can't get the pioneer practice out of their minds.
He skirmishes now and then with Democrats, Attorney General Jan Graham and the state's arch-conservatives, who accuse the governor of being too "mainstream."
Mostly though, he gets along. He works it out. He comes to consensus. And all the while he sports an 83 percent approval rating, the best ever for a Utah governor.
"States are not supplicants and the federal government the overlord," Leavitt lambasted recently in a congressional subcommittee on President Bill Clinton's controversial federalism order.
"And can you, the legislative branch, sit by and license the administration to not just make the law, but to remake the Constitution? I cannot fathom Congress allowing usurpation not just of the states, but of the legislative function."
Outside of Utah, Leavitt is a different man. He plays hardball. He argues.
He fights for states' rights and issues that plague the West. He advocates for an environmental doctrine shaped by governors of the Western states, and for a virtual university he has nearly single-handedly made a reality.
He cautions a go-slow approach to taxation on the Internet.
He is a dogged, tireless, aggressive defender of states' rights against further federal encroachment into citizens' private lives.
It is this Mike Leavitt that on Tuesday became vice-chairman of the National Governors' Association, a powerful lobby made up of chief executive officers in 50 states.
This is the tough talk of a man who also has the smarts and background and experience to back it up, according to some of his colleagues.
"Gov. Leavitt's depth of knowledge on federalism issues, and the challenges and opportunities of state government, particularly technology and electronic commerce, will be enormously valuable to NGA," said Raymond Scheppach, NGA executive director.
"We look forward to the leadership and bold vision he will bring to our organization."
Becoming vice chairman of NGA means Leavitt will be chairman in 1999-2000 - a presidential election season.
So, not only does Leavitt get the attention that comes with being chair of the governor's association, but he also gets the extra attention from GOP presidential candidates who historically court the heads of various groups, seeking advice and perhaps even endorsements.
If Leavitt wants an entree into the national political scene that election year, this is one of the best ways to do it.
On national politics: Does he want to? Will he?
The governor is stealthy in his responses. He keeps options open while reinforcing his commitment to Utah issues.
He has, and will "continue to magnify the franchise of this office," he says.
No question, Leavitt is getting around.
He's touring big-time national newsrooms on behalf of Western Governors to tout benefits of the group's Environmental Doctrine for the West.
One morning in July, he was interviewed by the New York Times in Manhattan before flying to Washington, D.C., for meetings with the Associated Press, the Economist magazine, David Broder of the The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
On another day it's the Public Broadcasting Service, with Michael Reagan's nationally syndicated radio talk show the next.
Governors of Western, public land states are always considered for secretary of the interior posts. While Leavitt may not seek or want such an appointment - should the GOP presidential nominee win - it doesn't hurt to be mentioned in that group of possible appointees.
And the NGA chairmanship allows meetings with the President not afforded most other heads of individual states.
But Leavitt won't say where he sees himself next.
"I really love this job and part of what I find appealing is that I can influence what happens in the place I live."
The new Children's Health Insurance Program, for example: On Wednesday, Leavitt issued the first of what officials hope will be 30,000 CHIP cards given to children in families who work but can't afford private health insurance.
"This was directly a result of legislation I helped to shape at NGA," he said. "I find that very satisfying."