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Chaffetz won’t seek re-election, leaves option for 2020 gubernatorial run

First Published      Last Updated May 26 2017 08:27 pm

Five-term House member rules out run for Hatch’s seat, saying he’ll venture outside of politics — but could be back.

Washington • The House speaker tried to talk him out of it. The White House chief of staff said he was "shocked!"

But Rep. Jason Chaffetz, in a move that rocked Utah political circles, said Wednesday that he would not seek re-election — or any other office in 2018 — though he left open the possibility of a future bid, possibly for governor in three years.

"There's an infinite array of possibilities, but I turned 50 [years old], I'm sleeping on a cot in my office, I've been away more than 1,500 nights, and it's just time to recalibrate, to think about your life and what you're doing," Chaffetz said in an interview. "I always said I'd get in, serve and get out."

The five-term Republican, who rose from a relatively unknown figure to the chairmanship of one of Congress' most powerful committees, said he would return to the private sector after his term ends in January 2019 and that his decision is based solely on his promise to serve a short time and his yearning to spend more time with his family.

"I love the work, but I love my family more. People will try to come up with guesses and none of which will be true of why I'm leaving," he said, adding that he may later opt for another bid for office, including Utah governor. Gov. Gary Herbert has said he's not likely to seek another term.

"All the options are still on the table," Chaffetz said. "I'm not opening or closing the door on anything."

As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz has faced increasing criticism for his lack of investigation into President Donald Trump's potential conflicts of interest and Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. He was jeered at a recent town hall. And an unknown Democrat, Kathryn Allen, had amassed $500,000 — $100,000 more than Chaffetz — to challenge him.

But Chaffetz said these factors played no role in his decision.

"For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives," he wrote on Facebook early Wednesday. "I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins."

While Chaffetz played coy on his future plans, the website jasonforgovernor.com redirects to his campaign website for the House.

Herbert said he "was as stunned as anyone" to hear that Chaffetz would not seek re-election.

"His razor-sharp mind, expansive knowledge and gift for communicating will serve him well when he transitions into the private sector," Herbert said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who Chaffetz said had pleaded with him to run again for his seat, praised the Utah congressman in a tweet, calling him a "great defender of liberty and limited government." White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus texted Chaffetz that he was "Shocked!" and then called to chat.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, lauded Chaffetz's track record as Oversight chairman.

"His work on that committee has been really very fruitful and very good," Hatch said. "He's got guts, he's an attractive personality. I think Utah should be proud of him."

Hatch accepted at face value Chaffetz's statement that he wanted to spend more time with family.

"He's kind of tired of being back there all the time. I understand that syndrome," said the seven-term senator who recently said he plans to run again next year.

Democrats, meanwhile, were ecstatic that Chaffetz would head for the sideline.

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