There are those made to run for public office, and those who serve those who win office, says Greg Hartley, the Utah House of Representatives’ chief of staff.
“And I am the guy who helps,” Hartley told UtahPolicy this week. “I would never run for office.”
And that’s OK by him.
“This is by far the best job I’ve ever had,” says Hartley, who is 36 and likes to wear what head hair he has as shaved.
Hughes knew who he wanted as his main guy before he ever won the speakership back after the 2014 general election.
Hartley’s political resume is too long to list here – service to say he worked for a lot of guys early in his career who lost their races – starting way back in 2000 when as a senior at Murray High School he worked in the campaign of Derek Smith – who beat then-GOP Rep. Merrill Cook for the Republican nomination but lost to Democrat Jim Matheson in the old 2nd Congressional District.
Hartley’s older brother, Jeff – today a well-known lobbyist -- got him interested in the political game – something Greg has been doing mostly since.
His big break, if you can call it that, was hooking up with Jon Huntsman Jr. in Huntsman’s first political campaign for governor back in 2004.
Hartley worked in Huntsman’s administrative office in varying full-time positions, ran Huntsman’s 2008 re-election campaign and then went to Florida to run Huntsman’s state operation when Huntsman briefly ran for president in 2012.
And Hartley worked in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development until Hartley took two government affairs jobs in national firms in Utah until Hughes came calling after winning the speakership following the 2014 legislative elections.
Well, somewhere along the way Hartley got to know Hughes via various races Hartley worked on – and Hughes hired him to work for about a year in Hughes’ apartment rental business.
But then Hughes won the speakership and asked Hartley to drop that career and join him in the speaker’s office.
“I thought I knew somewhat being the chief of staff” in the House “would mean,” recalls Hartley.
“I mean, I’d run a successful governor’s race and worked in Huntsman office.”
“Boy, was I naive,” says Hartley.
First off, there’s working for Hughes. “We know each other very well, what we like, our strengths. We are like brothers, really.”
Hughes has the same affection for Hartley, with one caveat: “He (Hartley) works me like a rented mule.”
The interaction between the two can be entertaining.
I’ve interviewed Hughes dozens of times – some with Hartley present, others alone.
Sometimes, Hughes says stuff that has Hartley cringing. Hartley is considering how that will sound in print, who might be offended, or caught off guard by Hughes’ frankness.
Hughes doesn’t care, or doesn’t see the personal politics at times. Hartley does.
“I can’t believe Hughes said that to you,” Hartley has remarked more than once – no doubt considering how that comment must be painted over by Hartley later.
Still, it is a team that seems to work.
Before he left the Senate office to work for Attorney General Sean Reyes, Ric Cantrell had been the chief of staff to at least four Senate presidents.
While chiefs of staff to House speakers have usually moved on when the speaker left.
There are pluses and minuses to both kinds of systems.
The House chief must work with 75 House members, closely with around 60 members of the majority Republican caucus.
The Senate chief has maybe 20 to 24 GOP senators to deal with – a lot more one-on-one interactions.
While Hughes is a hands-on speaker, just the size of the job is bigger than in the Senate.
Giving all praise to his boss, Hartley candidly says Hughes wants him to make many administrative decisions.
“The House staff is the largest it has ever been,” says Hartley. The constituent services arm of the House is the often-not-seen guts of the new operations. And that is mostly Hartley’s baby, with good work by many new staffers.
When Hughes/Hartley came into the speakership and chief job, Hartley thought maybe there would be some kind of guidebook.
It was a difficult time, former House Speaker Becky Lockhart, literally, was dying of a rare brain disease – passing away just before the 2015 general session began.
Hughes had been in leadership with Lockhart, but the other three new House GOP leaders had not.
“We worked like crazy,” says Hartley. He was sitting around Hughes’ kitchen table until 1 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving, for example.
“We were all drinking from fire hoses.”
And while that work would calm down a bit over the next several years, it all started again last spring.
Can you say “homeless?”
Hughes took on the homeless issue with gusto – and that means Hartley also did.
Hughes has praised Hartley openly in several press conferences on homeless/lawlessness over the summer.
After “Operation Rio Grande” started July 5, Hughes, Hartley and dozens of other folks worked the issue around the clock.
“On many issues, especially homelessness, Hughes is on a mission,” says Hartley. “And that means I’m on a mission, also.”
They were doing 40 hours a week on the ORG, plus Hartley was doing his other chief work as well.
“A lot of us were working around the clock, on the weekends, too.”
Being the House chief of staff may be a lot of work, but a lot of fun, also, says Hartley. “You get the administrative work, but you get policy development.
“It’s exciting. Much more so than being on the outside, like a lobbyist who is concerned just about this or that issue (he’s hired for). As chief, you deal with all the issues in this job.”
Hughes recently told UtahPolicy he soon must decide if he runs for the House again next year, or retires from it and leaves the job as speaker.
Only one other Utahn – former Speaker Marty Stephens – sought and won three, two-year terms as speaker.
It would be Hughes’ third run for the top House leadership job in 2018, he won’t stay in the House and not run for speaker again, he said.
Would Hartley be interested in staying on as chief if Hughes leaves?
“I don’t know,” says Hartley. That would depend on who the new speaker is – whether he or she would want him, whether Hartley would want to serve that person like he has Hughes.
“Hughes gets stuff done, and I would want to also,” with a new speaker.
Maybe Hughes will run for another term, then run for governor in 2020 – former Gov. Norm Bangerter used the speakership as a springboard in 1984.
But Stephens tried that in 2004, and his gubernatorial campaign ended in the state GOP convention. Lockhart was reportedly thinking about a governor’s run before her tragic death.
For now, it’s work hard for Hartley and enjoy the House chief of staff job.
He’s not going to stand for election himself.
“Those are brave souls who do run for office, and I just would never do it.”