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Lee: 'So God made a chief of staff'

Published February 13, 2013 3:33 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sen. Mike Lee riffed off the now famous Paul Harvey Super Bowl ad to praise his outgoing chief of staff, Spencer Stokes, by reading on the Senate floor a story of "So God Made a Chief of Staff."

"When God looked down on the Senate, He realized that the senators alone could never keep things running. He said, 'I need a caretaker!' So, God made a chief of staff," Lee said in an homage to the Dodge Ram advertisement that has been spoofed scores of times since it aired during the Super Bowl earlier this month.

Stokes, who is returning to Utah to lobby, was Lee's right-hand man in Washington as the new Utah senator made his transition into office. Lee heralded his former top aide for launching Jell-O Wednesdays, ensuring the office was decorated in Utah art and staking out time each week for the staff to peruse small-town newspapers.

"I am fairly certain that when God looked down on a newly elected senator from Utah in 2010, He knew that any old chief of staff simply wouldn't do," Lee said. "So in my case He actually chose a farmer ­ a turkey farmer from Bothwell, Utah: Spencer Stokes."

Lee's now-ex chief of staff watched the speech from the Senate gallery along with Lee's entire staff.

The full text of Lee's remarks below:

Mr. President I rise today to pay tribute to a special class of people

that are critical to the success of any Senator. During the recent super bowl one ad stood out among all the others ­ a tribute taken from the great American Paul Harvey entitled, So God Made a Farmer. While I respect and admire farmers, I am also certain my colleagues in this chamber will all agree that when it comes to this institution we can rightly change that statement to say, So God made a Chief of Staff. My first Chief of Staff, Spencer Stokes is returning to Utah, his family and private life after two extraordinary years. I offer this in tribute to him and all of the great chiefs who labor here on Capital Hill.

When God looked down on the Senate He realized that the senators alone could never keep things running, He said, "I need a caretaker!" So, God made a Chief of Staff!

He needed somebody whose first thought in the morning and last thought at night would be about helping and serving a senator; who would rise before dawn and organize the day, set the strategy, deal with the thick of thin things and steer the Senator away from bad meetings, bad policy and bad people; who would work all day in and out of the office, skip holidays, birthdays and parties in pursuit of their service, who would stay past midnight waiting for a vote ­ then be willing to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning to do it all again. So, God made a Chief of Staff!

He needed somebody with thick skin, strong will and a soft touch. Strong enough to herd cats, yet gentle enough to comfort a grieving constituent. Somebody to call BS, tame the cantankerous bureaucracy of government, creatively solve problems big and small and patiently listen to a hostile constituent with an ax to grind then telling them to be sure to come back real soon...and mean it. So, God made a Chief of Staff!

God said "I need somebody that can shape a staff, shine shoes, horse trade for furniture and office space, navigate a litany of ethics and rules requirements, and play the role of cruise director for countless constituent tours of DC. Somebody who will put in a full forty hours by Tuesday noon. Then put in another seventy two hours on top of that. So, God made a Chief of Staff!

He had to have somebody willing to sprint at double speed to stay ahead of a news story and yet stop on a dime and pivot to help the real people of this country who matter much more than the press or the powerful of this city. Somebody, who when the senator becomes surrounded by "yes-men" is willing to humbly, yet firmly and resolutely say ­ "No Sir!" So, God made a Chief of Staff!

He said, "I need somebody strong enough to catch arrows, take heat, endure withering criticism and patiently listen to angry voices. Somebody who is just fine with little prominence, praise, prestige or perks, and who above all is fiercely loyal and forever has the Senator¹s back. So God mad a Chief of Staff!

Spencer has been a fantastic Chief of Staff. Doing the heavy lifting and providing the Herculean effort required to set up an office and build a staff from scratch. He has an eye for detail like no other, though we do occasionally need to remind him to ³zoom out.² Straight chairs in the conference room, straight desks and even straight ties all set the stage for straight talk about issues and policy and serving constituents.

Spencer¹s love of Utah and its people is unequaled. As a first order of business he set out to make our office like an embassy. So when you walk into our office you are walking into Utah. From the art on the walls to the naming of conference rooms, from our legendary Jell-O Wednesday to the staff reading of the small town Utah newspapers each week ­ everything leads to an experience in our office. Spencer will long be remembered for handwritten notes, the best night-tour in DC, bringing people together, confetti, Utah Fry sauce, lots of laughter and a tireless commitment to make bad things good and good things better.

From Spencer¹s perspective there are no small part or players in this institution of the Senate. He didn't just preach that philosophy ­ he lived it. As testament, we noted that when asked to provide a list of people to invite to his farewell party the top of Spencer¹s list was not filled with other chiefs or those of high status or position. No, the top of the list was reserved for the people who really make this place go ­ cashiers and cooks, security personnel, guides, and junior staff from nearly every corner of the building.

I salute Spencer for his service to our nation, to this institution, to

the people of Utah and to me. I will be forever thankful that God made a Chief of Staff, and especially thankful for an extraordinary Chief of Staff ­ Mr. Spencer Stokes.

— Thomas Burr Twitter.com/thomaswburr