Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, sent a message of less than holiday cheer to his top aide on New Year's Eve this week: He decided to eliminate her job and send her packing.
"Happy New Year," Billie Gay Larson, his administrative assistant, said Thursday about Orton's office reorganization that left her without a job effective Jan. 31.Orton said Thursday he simply evaluated what worked well and what didn't during his first year in office and decided to reorganize his office so that all administrative and policymaking operations would be based in Utah.
"Therefore, I will not have an administrative assistant position in Washington. Billie - who has lived in Washington for decades - does not want to relocate to Utah," he told the Deseret News.
"He never asked me if I wanted to move to Utah," Larson said. "In fact, I spent considerable time last year considering moving there. I have lived in Washington since 1977, but I still consider myself a Utahn. That's where my roots and family are."
Larson grew up in Magna. Her father, Bill Larson, is a former Salt Lake County commissioner.
Orton said the reorganization had long been under discussion. Larson said it was a surprise to her, however, when Orton's new top assistant, Sheldon Kinsel, flew to Washington from Utah on New Year's Eve to break the news about the final decision to her.
Explaining his decision to move key roles from Washington to Utah, Orton said, "Many in Washington make a mistake by having their Washington operations dictate to their congressional district offices a philosophy. . . . As (former House Speaker) Tip O'Neill once said, all politics are local."
Ironically, Larson was an aide to O'Neill for 10 years.
Orton said that for some time, he has had more aides stationed in Utah than Washington. He now has 13 full-time staffers in Utah - including Kinsel and chief of staff Stephen Sheffield - and seven in Washington.
He noted most of those aides in Washington are legislative assistants who must be stationed there to attend hearings and briefings. Most his staff in Utah is assigned to work with constituents on their problems.
Larson said, "I think I have put together for him as bright and capable a staff as any on Capitol Hill."
She also noted, "It was clear for some time that he (Orton) was uncomfortable with Washington people. He is much more comfortable with the idea that his main base of decisionmaking is in the state."
Orton said, "It was just a typical staff reorganization. It happens all the time - particularly in politics."