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Gov. ends Utah's Washington, D.C. lobbyist's contract

Published June 22, 2007 1:21 am

Huntsman says big issues are solved
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has decided not to renew a $90,000-a-year contract signed two years ago with the state's Washington, D.C., lobbyist.

The move leaves the governor without a representative in the capital for the first time in more than two decades.

Two-thirds of the states and three territories have a Washington office or a representative in the city, according to the National Governors Association.

"Right now we have been able to clear most of our major issues," Huntsman said in an interview, citing the successful fight to block a nuclear-waste storage center in Utah as one.

Huntsman said he is confident the state won't suffer as a result of the decision to end the contract with Bill Simmons.

"If I thought we'd be at all discounted in Washington or less effective, I'd be doing otherwise," he said.

But the governor left the door open to hire a lobbyist in the future if issues arose requiring it.

For the last several months, Simmons has largely been helping coordinate state initiatives with the National Governors Association on natural resources, No Child Left Behind and energy issues, according to e-mails between Simmons and the governor's office obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune under an open records request.

When Huntsman took office in January 2005 he decided to close Utah's two-person Washington office, pitching it as a cost saving of about $230,000.

The office had tracked Utah's interests since Gov. Scott Matheson's administration.

But a month after the office shutdown, the governor sought bids for a Washington lobbyist to handle nuclear issues. The state eventually signed Simmons, a managing partner at Dutko Worldwide and former staffer to long-time Utah Rep. Jim Hansen, to help fight a plan by Private Fuel Storage to store high-level nuclear waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian reservation.

Dutko was the sixth-largest lobbying firm in 2006, with more than $21.3 million in contracts, according to figures compiled by The Center for Responsive Politics.

Huntsman said after he was elected his preference was to go without a Washington office, but thought there needed to be some D.C. presence during the transition because of the issues that "if not handled well would have had negative ramifications for the state."

He said his office works well enough with the congressional offices now that they deal directly with each other.

"If the relationships are strong enough and the system works as it should, we have five offices of our own back there," Huntsman said, referring to Utah's five members of Congress.

One of Simmons' most notable achievements was helping pass the Cedar Mountain Wilderness legislation to prevent deliveries of nuclear waste to the reservation.

"At certain critical times, he had just the right connections and expertise to help break some things through," said Scott Parker, chief of staff to Rep. Rob Bishop, sponsor of the Cedar Mountain provision. "Sometimes you need someone on the outside with that kind of background who can sort of be an extra, full-time advocate for your cause. Bill was a perfect fit to help in that fight."

"It was a great pleasure to work with the governor and his team," Simmons said. "We appreciate the opportunity to work with him on PFS and have nothing but good things to say about the experience."





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