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Huntsman spends day rockin’ and railin’

He give staff warning; celebrates at E Center

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Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. ended his first full day in office Tuesday the same way he began it — with a nod to his rock 'n' roll past.

Not that the governor sworn in just a day earlier didn't have more serious issues on his mind, including the new Cabinet members he is set to name today. Huntsman also met for the first time in his new role with his senior staff, admonishing them that they "can go at any time."

But the former teenage keyboard player in a band called "Wizard" made time for some fun, too, at a Statehood Day celebration organized by his inauguration team at the E Center in West Valley City.

He took the stage at the celebration with "The Love," a local band fronted by 28-year-old Love Sac founder Shawn Nelson, and played keyboards for the Rolling Stones song, "Start Me Up," then sang "Happy Birthday" to the state with Nelson.

"It was definitely a highlight of my first day in office," a beaming Huntsman said afterward. Was he nervous playing a classic rock 'n' roll tune in front of some of the 6,000 people who showed up for the event?

"It's been 25 years. The fingers still work," the governor said.

Huntsman performed after spending nearly an hour shaking hands with well-wishers in the arena's concourse, often surrounded by families seeking autographs, photographs and a chance to meet the state's 16th governor.

Hong-Lei Tao said he was surprised to be greeted by Huntsman and even more surprised that the governor spoke Tao's native tongue, Mandarin Chinese. Tao, who's worked five years for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said he'd never gotten that close to a governor before.

"I didn't expect this," Tao said. "It was great."

Earlier in the day, Huntsman had arrived at the governor's suite in the East Building with a box of photographs, books and memorabilia that he plans to display in both his public and private offices.

The most important addition to the office, he said, is a plaque with the Chinese characters and phrase for, "It can be done. There is a method." Huntsman said the term, "You ban fa," was introduced in China to replace a popular phrase that meant just the opposite.

In addition to various photos of his wife and six children are several taken with former Presidents Reagan and Bush as well as the current President Bush. The most unusual photo, though, might be of Huntsman with rock singer Bono of the band U2.

Huntsman, who was a U.S. trade representative when Bono visited the trade office in Washington, D.C., said he admired the singer not only for his music but also for using his fame to promote humanitarian causes.

His warning to his senior staff came during an outline of what the governor said he expects from his closest advisers, a team of political appointees that includes his chief of staff, legal counsel, legislative liaison and budget director.

Reporters were invited to listen in as Huntsman told his senior staff that they are "servants of the people" and should regard Utah taxpayers as their customers. He also made it clear their positions are temporary.

"We are temporary custodians of this office," Huntsman said. "We don't own the place."

And some may be more temporary than others. Huntsman won't be up for re-election until 2008, but he can replace his appointees at any time for any reason.

"You can go at any time. There's no job guarantees," he said. "One mistake that some people make is they feel they are entitled to stay forever. . . . . But I'm here to remind you, that we're not here forever and you're serving at the pleasure of this administration."

None of his senior staff spoke during the portion of the meeting that was open to the media, except to introduce themselves.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com