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Editorial: Sen. Lee makes a bipartisan turn

Published January 14, 2014 9:39 am

A kinder, gentler Sen. Lee?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mike Lee held his breath until the American economy turned blue. And what did Utah's junior United States senator get for his trouble?

A government shutdown that took a big divot out of the already sluggish economic recovery. Disapproving remarks from people usually in his corner, even his senior partner, Sen. Orrin Hatch. An approval rating for Congress stuck for months in single digits.

And Obamacare, the quarry that Lee argued was such a danger to the American way of life that vanquishing it was worth paying any price, limps relentlessly forward.

Since then, though, Lee has made more than a few statements that indicate that he didn't need more than a few rhetorical whacks upside the head to change his approach.

In several recent speeches (mostly to audiences much smaller than those he regaled from the Senate floor) Lee has been heard to take up a new, more accommodating, theme. Speeches that call for more compromise in search of common goals, less self-immolation in pursuit of ideological purity.

"Frustration is not a platform, and anger is not an agenda," Lee rightly said Friday at a forum at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

His call for a more compromising, bipartisan spirit in Congress struck some as sounding like a Hollywood producer calling for more movies with quiet character development and fewer explosions. And Lee has still left himself plenty of time to scurry back to the far immovable right if he feels his re-election, in 2016, requires it.

But there is some substance here. Notice that Lee's reach across the aisle on such issues as sentencing reform and limits on government snooping predated, and have survived, his budget filibuster.

Both endeavors have brought Lee into alignment with many Democrats. Attorney General Eric Holder, along with many former prosecutors from both parties, have pointed out the injustice attached to mandatory minimum sentences for even small-time, nonviolent drug offenders. And, on the issue of NSA metadata overreach, Lee's conservative wing is finding common cause with some of the most liberal members of Congress.

Nobody expects Mike Lee to abandon his small-government principles. He will still be a safe vote for lower taxes, scant regulatory powers and states rights.

But if he no longer expects people with differing views to abandon their principles, then he has learned something. And we can learn from him.