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Chaffetz has joined the chorus of whiners

Published December 29, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Congressman Jason Chaffetz first bumbled onto the political scene in 2004, his ascent was accidental and his quick exit self-inflicted.

But the wheel was reinvented and the former BYU placekicker came bustling back. It remains to be seen whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Chaffetz was elected to Congress in 2008, a couple of years after he left his job as Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s chief of staff in a less-than-auspicious fashion. In the short time he was the governor's top guy, he managed to offend legislative leaders and so alienate co-workers that many were glad to see him go.

It was a fluke he had become chief of staff in the first place. After forging a career in the multi-level marketing industry, he became the media contact for Huntsman's gubernatorial campaign in 2004. He was named campaign manager when political insider Chuck Warren suddenly left that job.

Huntsman, being Huntsman, was a shoe-in to win and Chaffetz, whose stint as campaign manager opened the door to the chief of staff's office, suddenly was in a position of power.

Legislators soon complained that Chaffetz often blocked access to Huntsman and they were forced to bring their concerns to Chaffetz instead.

In fairness, instead chalking up his behavior to runaway ego, as some legislators believed was the case, he may have been doing Huntsman's bidding. The fact is, the governor never appeared much enthralled with having to engage with legislators.

But Chaffetz had a reputation for being too heavy-handed with staffers as well. For whatever reason, he didn't last, announcing he was seeking opportunities in the private sector.

But his self-exile didn't last long. He stormed back, upsetting six-term incumbent Chris Cannon in the Republican primary, largely on the strength of Chaffetz' hard-line stance on immigration reform and Cannon's support of the more reasonable Dream Act.

As his third term begins in January, Chaffetz has become a player in Washington by, among other things, making himself available to the media and sticking firmly to the right-wing party line. Unfortunately, embracing that dogma makes him part of the problem with partisan gridlock, not the solution.

When he first arrived at the Capitol, Chaffetz eagerly became one of Rep. Eric Cantor's flunkies by doing all he could to frustrate Democrats on the House floor, bellowing "point of order, point of order, point of order" whenever a Democrat stood to explain a bill. In short, he acted like a 3-year-old. But that's the tea party.

Chaffetz is the most accessible member of Utah's congressional delegation. Many reporters have his cell phone on speed dial, he always returns calls and is unfailingly charming. He's a bright guy, and most reporters I have talked to like him. I like him.

But when I asked Chaffetz recently about alternatives to hard-line immigration reform, especially since the GOP got pounded by the Latino vote in November, all he could say was what he has been programmed to say: "It's Obama's fault."

Chaffetz was on the Sunday morning talk shows recently, this time talking about the fiscal cliff. His one-size-fits-all mantra: "It's all Obama's fault."

He actually likened House Speaker John Boehner — who can't get his rambunctious caucus to approve a bipartisan compromise on tax cuts — to the late Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill. And he said it with a straight face.

It's a shame, because Chaffetz has the talent to be a force for getting something done. But that would require compromise. And even though he has the personality to bring people together, he has chosen to get ahead in the Republican caucus by being an obstructionist. —