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Work defines commission hopeful

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One word could fairly be described as Mark Shurtleff's defining characteristic: work.

The Salt Lake deputy county attorney and County Commission candidate has acquired a lawyer's habit of being in the office long hours. He joined the county attorney's office last October in part to escape the long hours of his Orange County, Calif., private practice, and the move helped dilute his habits, but not by much."He's got the private-sector mentality in a government environment," said County Attorney Doug Short, Shurtleff's boss.

Shurtleff recently saw his 14-month-old son take his first step - on video.

"I get consumed with things," he said.

Right now Shurtleff is consumed with beating fellow Republican Steve Harmsen in the June 23 primary. An average of four hours of sleep per night combined with work and evening campaign activities have resulted in his losing substantial weight. A past relaxation technique for Shurtleff was to "veg" on the couch late at night watching "Comedy Central" while eating peanut butter on toast, but even that luxury has been denied him of late.

He teaches at the police academy, he's involved with the Boy Scouts, he's involved with mentoring and intervention programs, he's a small claims court judge, but the politically conservative Republican stops short of calling himself a workaholic.

"A workaholic to me is one whose profession takes precedence over everything else, and that's not the case," he said.

Shurtleff reads voraciously for recreation, usually novels and historical biographies. He's working on writing a novel of his own. The book, which is about two-thirds complete, is about soldiers dealing with the aftermath of Vietnam. The plot was inspired by Shurtleff's stint in the Navy's Judge Advocate General Corps, where he represented a man suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome who had killed a friend.

Shurleff and his wife have five children, the three youngest of which were adopted. The couple chose to adopt all three from drug-addicted mothers. One child was born addicted to methadone.

"Watching the process of withdrawal is just gut-wrenching," Shurtleff said. "I'm very strongly in favor of keeping laws on drug use. My kids wouldn't have had a chance if those moms hadn't been caught and put in jail."

Growing up in the Salt Lake Valley, Shurtleff became interested in politics early. He was student body president in junior high, vice president in high school (Brighton). He liked public speaking. In fact, his confident, somewhat aggressive demeanor combined with his 6-foot-4-inch height (he played a lot of basketball in high school and college before knee surgery slowed him down) can be a little overwhelming to some, who grumble about Shurtleff's combativeness in his professional duties.

He has been assigned some unpopular cases, such as challenging the County Commission's charitable donations and defending the county against a disgruntled public works employee, which he has nonetheless taken on with typical zeal.

"He's had to take a lot of politically hot items," said Short. "(But) he's being a good lawyer; he's advocating the position he's assigned. . . . He's taken a lot of heat internally in the office and in the county because he's done what he's been asked to do."

Short's unabashed support of Shurtleff has caused the candidate some problems given Short's high negative ratings. Opponents have said Short, whose term of office will end next January, is maneuvering to influence the County Commission through Shurtleff, even to the point of becoming his administrative assistant. Shurtleff denies that.

"I'm not running this thing to continue Doug Short's battles," he said. "He hired me - that's all."

This paragraph from a Shurtleff press release reveals his political underpinnings:

"Citing the oaths he has taken as an Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster, a United States naval officer and a member of the Utah State Bar, Shurtleff promised `on honor' to keep his eyes locked on the landmarks that will guide his service: a divinely inspired Constitution, solid Republican values and principled leadership."

The winner between Shurtleff and Harmsen will face Democrat Mike Reberg in the general election.