ST. GEORGE – A national group calling for congressional term limits has opened a chapter in Utah. They are seeking to gain legislative and citizen support for a constitutional convention focused creating an amendment aimed at curbing the creation of career politicians.
U.S. Term Limits announced Sunday that it has launched a Utah chapter to “continue the progress that Democrats and Republicans have made to reign in the powerful in Washington, D.C. by imposing congressional term limits.”
Imposing term limits will restore trust in government and power to the people, the group said in a news release.
“This nationwide initiative to impose term limits on congress has garnered bipartisan support on the state level and on the federal level,” Justin Anderson, director of the Utah chapter, said in the release. “Accountability and transparency are not partisan issues, rather a divisive issue between the establishment and the people.”
The group argues that so-called career politicians do not represent their constituents, lack transparency and are generally opposed to progress as they support the establishment and status quo that keeps them in power.
As anyone familiar with Utah politics may guess, when the idea of term limits is brought up, mention of the state’s senior senator isn’t far behind.
Right or wrong, 83-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has served as one of Utah’s senators for 40 years and counting, is often used as an example by those who support term limits due to his longevity in congressional service.
U.S. Term Limits points to Hatch’s 1976 run for Senate against then three-term Sen. Frank Moss during which he brought up how long his opponent had served in congress.
“Senator, you have served the people of Utah for 18 years; it’s time to retire,” Hatch said to Moss at the time.
Part of Hatch’s argument for Moss was that he and other long-serving senators had lost touch with their constituents.
Over the four decades Hatch has served in the Senate, he has held various positions, and currently serves as chair of the Senate Finance Committee and as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was also made the President pro tempore of the Senate in 2015.
“Sen. Hatch has accumulated three of the most valuable commodities in D.C.: seniority, a history of bipartisan success and a great title,” Kirk Jowers, head of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, told the Deseret News when Hatch was made the president pro tempore in January 2015.
Hatch announced last fall he is considering running for an eighth term and has since solidified that consideration.
“I’m planning on running again, there’s no question about that,” Hatch told Fox 13 News in April.
Still, in a poll by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinkley Institute of Politics that published last month, a majority of Utahns polled said they didn’t want Hatch to run for another term.
“We have the discussion among Utahns who overwhelmingly want Hatch to retire,” Anderson told St. George News Tuesday.
Nearly 8-in-10 Utahns polled – 78 percent overall – would like to see Hatch retire. The poll involved 614 registered Utah voters and has a margin for error of 3.95 percent.
While U.S. Term Limits isn’t specifically targeting Hatch with the opening of the Utah chapter, Anderson said, he is nonetheless seen as a prime example for why term limits are needed.
However, Hatch’s Office argues there already are term limits at play in congress, and they are enacted by the voters.
“The Constitution already provides term limits: they‘re called elections,” Matt Whitlock, a spokesman for Hatch’s office, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “The people of Utah have consistently shown that they support the Constitution as written. Utah’s voters can make their own decisions regarding who represents them in Congress, and they do so without the patronization of out-of-state interest groups who think they know better.”
Nevertheless, Anderson said term limits are widely supported in Utah and across the country. He cited an October 2016 poll published by Utah Policy that 88 percent of Utahns favor the term limits for their congressional representatives.
U.S. Term Limits hopes to work with the Utah Legislature to pass a resolution to support an Article V constitutional convention in which a term limits amendment may be crafted and ratified by third-thirds of the state legislatures.
“This is not the left versus the right,” Anderson said. “Rather, this is the establishment versus the constituents.”
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