Bob Henrie: The man who has the governor's ear
It was the spring of 2004, and Gary Herbert was a hot commodity.
His own bid for governor had run out of steam heading into the state Republican convention, but he was being aggressively courted by several suitors who hoped that adding the Utah County commissioner as their running mate would catapult them into the Utah Governor's Office.
Among them was Jon Huntsman Jr., a political newcomer looking to shore up support among conservative delegates.
So Huntsman arranged a meeting at Herbert's campaign headquarters to offer the No. 2 spot on the ticket. But Herbert wanted one other guy in the room: Bob Henrie, a prominent ad man and wired-in political operative who had been running Herbert's campaign.
They had known each other only about a year, but Henrie had become Herbert's closest and most trusted political adviser a relationship that has only solidified since.
And while Herbert says he takes input from numerous sources, there is no one who has Herbert's ear more than Henrie.
If Karl Rove earned the moniker "Bush's Brain," based on his relationship with former President George W. Bush, then Henrie could rightly be called Gary's Guru.
Herbert has relied on Henrie's advice for everything from deciding whether to join the Huntsman ticket, to picking his own lieutenant governor, to crafting energy policy to walking the immigration tightrope.
"He's the master," Herbert said introducing Henrie at an event in Washington a few months after becoming governor. "I sit at his feet all the time."
"What happens in Vegas â¦" • For nearly 25 years, Henrie has been a partner in R&R Partners, running the Salt Lake office for the Las Vegas-headquartered ad agency most renowned for developing the ubiquitous slogan "What happens here, stays here" for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Henrie's father was an official in the Interior Department and Henrie landed his first job on Capitol Hill in 1972. A few years later he went to work for Rep. Jim Santini, becoming chief of staff for the Nevada Democrat. In 1982, Henrie ran Santini's re-election campaign and hired R&R Advertising to do Santini's ad work.
Santini lost and Henrie moved to Utah in 1983, working for Savage Industries, which ran the Wilberg Coal Mine, the site of one of worst coal mine disasters in Utah history. In the year it took to recover the miners' bodies, Henrie was the public face of the tragedy.
In 1984, he worked his first Utah political race, helping Norm Bangerter's gubernatorial run and a few years later began consulting for Sen. Orrin Hatch and doing ad work for Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi.
"He's the best I've ever seen at the munch-and-crunch-time political and communication strategy," Horiuchi said. "If you're in a major firefight and you're in a foxhole â¦ and there's machine gun fire over your head, he is one of the guys you want in your foxhole, if not the first guy, because he's going to be able to think up a plan to get you out of there."
In 1986, Santini changed parties, running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican against then-Rep. Harry Reid. Santini lost but R&R founder Sig Rogich and Billy Vassiliadis invited Henrie to join their firm.
Henrie and Vassiliadis bought the firm from Rogich in 1992 when Rogich went to work shaping the image of President George H.W. Bush, whose campaign ads Rogich had helped produce.
Since then, Henrie and R&R have done work for companies in Nevada and nationwide, including the Utah Transit Authority, Utah Opera and Intermountain Healthcare.
The firm also has two deals with the state totaling about $2 million a year, one running the Parents Empowered campaign to curb teen drinking and the other a recently awarded deal from the Governor's Water Conservation Team to run a "Slow The Flow" campaign.
They're contracts, Henrie hastens to add, that were competitively bid and not a result of his relationship with the governor. His company has lost more than it has won during the Herbert years, he says.
But these days it is Herbert and the race for governor that is taking much of Henrie's focus.
It was 2004, as Herbert was tossing his hat into the governor's race, a mutual friend, Wilford Clyde, the construction magnate and owner of the Clyde Cos., arranged for Henrie to meet with Herbert.
Henrie's son was married to Clyde's daughter, and Clyde thought they would hit it off.
"In 2004, outside of Utah County and local government officials, a lot of people didn't know me and there weren't a lot of people out there championing my cause for governor," Herbert said. "I appreciated the fact, at least from his perspective, he thought there was something worth supporting."
Henrie said he had little time to get involved in a campaign, but figured he would meet with Herbert and offer whatever perspective he could.
"I just genuinely liked and respected the man, so I just got involved, essentially as a volunteer for the next six years."
"I tell him what I think" • Henrie has been a jack-of-all-trades.
Of course, R&R Partners handles the Herbert For Governor messaging and advertisements that have been all over the airwaves in recent weeks. And Henrie has frequently been in the wings at Herbert's recent debates and public appearances.
Along with Herbert's campaign manager, Joe Demma, who worked for R&R Partners in Nevada before being brought into the Herbert fold in 2004, Henrie has been front-and-center in steering Herbert's bid albeit a rocky one for his first statewide office.
"I don't want this to sound negative to anybody else, but he gives adult supervision to those surrounding Gary," said Utah Republican Chairman Dave Hansen. "He's been around. He understands it and he keeps a steady hand on the Gary Herbert operation."
But it goes well beyond that.
When Herbert learned he would be the state's next governor after Huntsman was nominated to become ambassador to China, Henrie was among the small group of insiders who were consulted on picking a new lieutenant governor and hiring senior staff.
When Herbert headed to Washington earlier this year, Henrie helped coordinate meetings and used his Nevada connections to arrange a meeting between the governor and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and R&R has hosted Washington fundraisers for the governor.
When Herbert took a family vacation to Nevada earlier this year, Henrie even arranged a golf tee time for the governor at an exclusive Las Vegas country club.
And he frequently has a hand in policy decisions as well, particularly when it comes to energy issues, which Henrie has followed from his days working for Santini, where his committee oversaw mining issues and his firm won a $35 million contract from the National Mining Association in 2007 to develop a strategy to boost coal's image.
Henrie was instrumental in assembling the governor's energy task force, and is a member of the commission that Herbert has assigned to craft Utah's energy policy for the next decade.
"The desire and commitment to do a long-term energy plan was his and is one I'm very enthusiastic about," Henrie said. "Energy is a major, major part of my background. â¦ I've watched energy policy evolve for 35 years and it is a deep interest of mine."
Henrie's expertise has also been called on to polish Herbert's nuanced message before the governor hosted a summit on the thorny immigration issue and before his first State of the State address.
"I think he values my advice, particularly in certain areas," Henrie said. "I'm in an inner-circle position because I tell him what I think, not because I tell him what I think he wants me to say, and I think he values having some people around him who aren't employees, who don't have an agenda. Bottom line: I think he knows I have his best interest at heart and so he involves me in some issues that weigh heavy."
Behind the scenes of Utah's most powerful public office holder is a man who is little known to the public. Bob Henrie, an ad executive and political operative, is Gov. Gary Herbert's most trusted adviser. He provides political advice, and much more, including having a role in shaping state policy on such important issues as immigration and energy.