Utah Weekend Getaway (with Governors Included!)

SALT LAKE CITY — I spent my weekend here, a gorgeous place nestled in the mountains with notably wide streets. I didn’t much explore much, for I was here for the National Governors Association summer meeting. Our NPR StateImpact project has just started its soft rollout, so I came to network with governors and staffers and other people who orbit state government.

There is scant news made here. So there’s been plenty of time to bond with new friends.

On the governors: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was probably the weekend’s most sought-after governor, at least by the Newark Star Ledger, which sent a reporter and a photographer to come follow his every move. Christie totally denied his home state journos, though, not saying a word all weekend.

Hickenlooper and Balz

I sat in on the WSJ’s one-on-one with Iowa governor Terry Branstad, who just loves talking politics and gave us an earful about how powerful Iowa is in the presidential contest. “We made him, we can sink him,” he said of President Barack Obama. And that night, while having some late night drinks with my new press corps buddies, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado invited himself over for beers.

Making new friends through Murdoch: I was marginally concerned about coming all the way out here where I knew no one. But I have the News Corp phone hacking scandal to thank for introducing me to one pal, who then introduced me to a merry band of brothers. This is how Murdoch brought us together:

ME, to SUDEEP, on the phone: Dude, is your paper gonna get sold? Your publisher resigned!
[Conversation continues for a few minutes, then I hang up]

GUY NEXT TO ME IN PRESS ROOM WHO OVERHEARD MY END OF THE CONVO: Were you talking to a Wall Street Journal reporter?

ME: Yep.

GUY: I’m a Wall Street Journal reporter. It’s pretty crazy what’s going on. [He introduces himself.]

“GUY” was my new pal Jonathan Weisman, a longtime political reporter who also happens to know more about the Mormon faith than any non-Mormon I’ve ever encountered. That night, after we were kicked off an event bus by the hosts, we met up with another new friend, the Chuck Babington, and visited the Temple Square. Weisman gave us a detailed tour, natch.

Since there were only about six American journalists in town —  nothing compared to the dozens of Chinese journos who came to cover a US-China Governors Forum — we stuck together. Shared many a meal. Mingled with staffer sources in the lobby. The boys wrote stories. Babington and another vet, Dan Balz, busted my balls for my whining about the bus incident. I taught Dan how to tweet a photo from his phone. And on our last night, The Times’ Michael Cooper joined us for dinner and drinks and told us all about the quirkly Utah liquor laws. It was a pleasure to make some new friends from whom I can learn so much. Like about how you can’t order doubles at the bars, and that the Mormon guardian angel is Moroni.

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