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2 people to keep an eye on at dawn of ‘New Day’

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Well, it is a New Day, as a certain new governor likes to say. So we thought we'd kick off the new year by writing about two people in key roles who might not be well known to a lot of readers but who are worth watching in 2005.

Webb: Jason Chaffetz has had a meteoric rise in Utah politics. At age 37 and with relatively little government or political experience (he dabbled in politics in college, helping the Michael Dukakis campaign), he commands one of the most powerful positions in the state as Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s chief of staff.

Chaffetz is a real-life testament to the fact that great opportunities still exist in politics for capable people who are willing to step up, work hard and prove themselves. He had no relationship at all with Huntsman when he decided he wanted to work for the campaign in late 2003. So he did a "cold call," actually 10 or 12 of them before anyone took him seriously. His persistence paid off, and he eventually became communications director.

The fact that he didn't come with a political agenda or any baggage as a lobbyist or insider probably helped him with Huntsman, along with having "a pretty tenacious work ethic." A little later, when the campaign manager had to resign for health reasons, Huntsman told Chaffetz: "You're the campaign manager."

So Huntsman clearly knew what he was getting when he asked Chaffetz to be his chief of staff after the election. You don't spend hundreds of hours driving the state together, dealing with all sorts of tense and stressful situations, working 15-hour days, without getting to know someone pretty well, warts and all.

Chaffetz said he's never had such a good relationship with a boss or colleague as with Huntsman, on both professional and personal levels. They understand each other, and their personalities match on everything from humor to personal values. People find it hard to believe, Chaffetz said, but Huntsman really is a humble person who wants to build others and help them succeed.

The chief of staff knows who's the boss. "He makes the final decisions. My job is to make sure he has all the facts and understands all sides." Chaffetz said he can "close the door and tell him when I think he's wrong" — handled in the right way, of course. "Sometimes he agrees with me. Sometimes he doesn't." Chaffetz said the two established open, honest and frank communications when Chaffetz told Huntsman after one of the first debates that his close was terrible. "That I was willing to tell him exactly what I thought earned me a lot of points."

Chaffetz views his role in state government as something of a chief operating officer, overseeing the Cabinet, keeping everything in sync, and carrying out the governor's strategic plan. He will likely be more visible with the media than previous chiefs have been. He gets along great with Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who will focus on specific administration priorities, particularly transportation, water issues, running the elections office and rural affairs.

Chaffetz clearly has enough chutzpah to do the job. But I didn't get the sense that he's too cocky or full of himself. He will be dealing with a lot of department heads and legislators who are a lot older and more experienced than he is. But I'm guessing he will listen, strike the right note, and get the New Day off to a sunny start.

Pignanelli: For generations, federal legislation has long been identified by congressional sponsors (i.e. Smoot-Hawley, Taft-Hartley, Roth IRA). Until the introduction of the now famous Jones-Mascaro bill, there was no living memory of Utah governmental actions labeled by legislative authors. The Democratic co-author of this proposed shift in tax and education policies, Rep. Pat Jones, is a leader all Utahns should watch not only in 2005, but for years to come.

Jones possesses the characteristics important in Utah politics. Born in Holladay, she graduated from Olympus High School and the University of Utah. She is the mother of seven children and the joint owner of a successful business (thus, frequent "Women in Business" honors). Jones is an attractive, well-coiffed and articulate advocate of causes important to her, including senior citizens and public education. These attributes are enough to guarantee success for any elected official. However, Jones possesses additional resources that are the envy of all politicians.

Jones spends every working day learning, in detail, the fears and desires of Utahns on a variety of topics — she is a renowned moderator of focus groups for market research. Such activities have become an integral part of our society (i.e. The TRAX moniker was developed by a focus group supervised by Jones). Pat is married to Dan Jones, scion of Utah politics (co-owner with her of Dan Jones & Associates and pollster for the Deseret Morning News) and the state's leading pollster. Therefore, Pat Jones has an intricate knowledge of what is well-liked or an annoyance to Utahns.

For example, the Jones-Mascaro legislation has not progressed any farther than a committee hearing. Yet, because this bill has touched a "soft spot" with so many Utahns, it continues to be a major topic in political circles (which explains its unique label). Co-sponsored by Republican Stephen Mascaro of West Jordan, the proposal limits the number of tax deductions for dependents and targets the extra funds as block grants to local school classrooms. From her research, Jones knows these concepts are popular with Utahns frustrated with status quo policies on taxes and education.

Pat was recently elevated by the House Democrats to minority whip, to assist Minority Leader Ralph Becker. As whip, she will need to frequently oppose Republican initiatives before the media, yet maintain her persona as a consensus builder. Both Jones and Becker will be providing the official Democratic response to Huntsman's upcoming State-of-the-State speech.

From her experience and background, Jones knows that ideas are powerful forces in politics. Consequently, she will be a leader to watch on important issues ranging from education, health care and the expanding number of Utah seniors.

Labor and Democrat activist Ken Gardner recently passed away. Gardner toiled for years in behalf of working families at the Capitol and will be missed.

Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A former candidate for Salt Lake mayor, Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.