OPINION — For such a small, insignificant state — at least in terms of political clout — it is possible that Utah could find itself in the maelstrom of national politics.
Jason Chaffetz, who represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in the House, has tossed his hat in the ring to take over for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is packing his desk and heading home soon because he has been deemed as not being conservative enough to please the far right, which has put a chokehold on the Republican Party.
While not a fan of Boehner, I do feel sorry for the guy, who was a lifelong party stalwart who carried the conservative banner proudly, only to get tossed out on his ear by a new generation of ultra-conservatives who would make the late Barry Goldwater blush.
I just don’t get it.
Boehner stood toe-to-toe and duked it out with President Barack Obama and Democrats in the House with tenacity. Like him or not, he put up a heck of a fight from the conservative side of the aisle.
He won some, he lost some, but he was never afraid to throw down the gauntlet.
Of course, the same could be said of Bob Bennett, the former senator from Utah who also was unfairly dumped by Utah voters because he wasn’t considered conservative enough anymore. I didn’t, by the way, understand that either.
Make no mistake, my politics have never been in alignment with either Boehner or Bennett, but I thought they were solid Republicans with true conservative positions.
I never met Boehner but knew Bennett from his many press junkets to Southern Utah and found him a fascinating historical study because of his connections to the Richard Nixon administration and widespread speculation that he was involved in the Watergate scandal. There are those who, to this day, believe he was in on planning the Watergate break-in, while others, including Nixon, thought he was the informant Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward identified only as “Deep Throat” in their stories that resulted in exposing and toppling the Nixon administration.
These are guys who, I swear, would take a bullet for the GOP. I never suspected the party would fire a politically lethal shot at either of them.
But, such is the oddball world of politics these days.
A relative rookie along The Beltway — Chaffetz was first elected to the House in 2008 — it is a rather gutsy move for him to go after Boehner’s job, especially considering that his only previous experience in politics came when he successfully managed the campaign of Jon Huntsman Jr. in 2004 and worked for the former governor as chief of staff for a little less than a year.
Other than that, the only time the public heard of Chaffetz was when he was a placekicker for the BYU football team.
I knew Chaffetz when he worked for Huntsman. I remember him as an intense campaigner and strategist. I’ve sat in on meetings with Chaffetz and Huntsman and watched him study the room as if he was sitting at a table at the World Series of Poker, looking for a “tell” that would tip the hand in his favor.
He’s sly, wily but also a bit of a tyro who has been dutifully working his way up the ranks in the House since his election in 2008.
Now, he is hoping to become the highest-ranking legislative official in the federal government, a position that would also make him second in line in succession to the presidency. As a matter of trivia that might win you a drink in the corner bar, the Senate president pro tempore is third in the line of presidential succession. Sen. Orrin Hatch has that position nailed down, which could put the Utah delegation in a rather unique position.
This is all rarified air, of course. Especially for a guy who has flip-flopped politically — he was originally a Democrat — and went from a fairly moderate position when working with Huntsman to shifting to the far, far right where he is acceptable to the Tea Party types.
I thought he did a good job when he worked for Huntsman, but I also think something went sour there with Chaffetz bailing out a scant 11 months after Huntsman took office. When he began his political campaign, I wondered what happened to this guy who had been a reasonable moderate but, seemingly overnight, started hugging the white line on the far right of the political expressway so tightly.
But it worked, and he was elected because he convinced voters that the six-term incumbent Chris Cannon, who had rightly earned a reputation as one of the most conservative members of the House, had “failed us for not instituting conservative principles.”
It was the kind of savage political doublespeak that ushered in a new generation of baffling conservative politics.
It has also enabled Chaffetz to gather a little political muscle, which is why so far, the only others who have announced they would run for Speaker are Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Florida, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who has a snowball’s chance of regaining the spot this time around.
Chaffetz said he would withdraw if Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, enters the race. Ryan, of course, has the full blessing of the farthest reaches of the far right and was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.
It appears Ryan has the votes if he can be persuaded to make a run, but that is doubtful because he has claimed that the job would put too many demands on his family.
The problem here is that while all three of these men repeat the Tea Party mantra that “Washington is broken,” none have come up with a way to mend it.
But, that’s typical of politics these days, where, no matter which side you sit on, it is easier to attack the opposition rather than offer substantive solutions.
Ryan, Webster and Chaffetz are no exception.
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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