The Newcomers: All About Serendipity

Posted March 25, 2009 at 2:23pm

All About Serendipity. Someday, when Justin Harding looks back on his life, it may turn out that 1998-1999 was a watershed year.

It was during that time that Harding switched from a business to a political science major, landed an internship in a Congressional office and got married. Ten years later, he’s the chief of staff for newly elected Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and his life is a bit different than he once expected it to be.

“I thought I would spend my life in southern Utah, either in my own business or working for a family member’s business,— Harding said. “But life is full of serendipitous events, and this is one of them.—

The moment that set this all in motion came in the fall of 1998. Harding was walking through a building at his alma mater, Southern Utah University, when he spotted an ad for an internship with then-Rep. James Hansen (R-Utah). He landed the position and spent a semester in Washington, D.C., doing mostly constituent correspondence duties.

Harding returned to Hansen’s office in August 2000 as a legislative assistant, and he was “a foot deep and a mile wide on most judicial issues— while he was there. When Hansen retired, Harding became senior legislative assistant and then legislative director for his successor, Rep. Rob Bishop (R).

After Chaffetz was elected in November, he tapped Harding to be his chief of staff. The two men had met several times, and friends who had worked on the Congressman’s campaign encouraged Harding to take the job. Harding’s political background and family ties in Chaffetz’s district made him a natural fit.

The biggest challenge Harding has faced in his new position has been setting up the staff and making sure he was choosing the right people for Chaffetz’s office. Harding said he had to weed through about 600 applications for 12 positions that were split between the district and Washington offices.

“We were looking for people who were competent, had substantive policy experience, and ties to the state of Utah were given a lot of weight,— Harding said.

It was important that constituents be able to relate to the staff, which meant that the people in the office had to have a solid understanding of the state’s issues.

“The first question I hear out of the mouths of people who come into the office is, Where in Utah are you from?’— he said.

Now that the team is in motion, Harding said the ease with which everyone works together has been “so pleasantly surprising.— Next up is ironing out the Congressman’s legislative priorities. Harding is optimistic about that task as well.

“I think we’ll have a proactive agenda and one that meets the needs of the district,— he said.

Harding may not be running his own business in Utah as he had originally planned, but it seems as though he has found a way to mesh his career with his love of home.

“I get to keep one foot in the state and keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in Utah through my family and my job, but my family also gets the D.C. experience. My kids get to grow up amongst all this culture,— he said.

Sounds like a charmed — or serendipitous — life, indeed.