Dan Liljenquist warns not to read to much into his op-ed piece in the Deseret News Thursday that calls out Sen. Mike Lee’s quixotic insistence on quashing a federal budget deal without the defunding of Obamacare..
But many political observers, including myself, are reading a lot into it anyway.
Liljenquist, whose short stint in the Utah Senate shot him into national political prominence, wrote a scathing editorial against Lee, calling the junior senator’s government hostage taking tactics against Obamacare "an act of self-immolation that will cripple (Lee’s) influence in the United States Senate. Unfortunately for the state of Utah, the damage may be permanent."
Liljenquist says that is not a shot across the bow and doesn’t mean he’s thinking of challenging the increasingly unpopular senator when his first term is up in 2016.
"I support Mike Lee. But the tone has to change and it won’t change with these types of tactics."
Liljenquist quit the Senate with a year left on his four-year first term to run against Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012.
He got enough delegate support in the GOP convention to force the legendary six-term senator into a primary election before Hatch easily beat the upstart in that election to secure his seventh term.
His supporters have been waiting to see what he will do next, with the most prominent speculation having him run for Hatch’s seat in 2018, when the senior senator has said he will retire.
But with Lee’s approval rating in Utah dropping like the Hindenburg and constituents publicly grumbling that his rigid ideology is hurting the country, Liljwenquist’s op-ed has spurred hope among the Lee detractors that he will move his Senate plans up by two years.
Political scientists are already prognosticating that Lee is vulnerable in 2016.
Liljenquist made clear in his op-ed that he hopes Lee softens and works with those seeking a compromise for the good of his country.
But he didn’t miss the opportunity to point out his own diplomacy while in the state Senate to gain bipartisan support for major government pension and Medicaid reforms.
The pension bill changed the state’s retirement system for public employees from defined benefit to defined contribution, in which the state contributes 10 percent to the employee’s retirement fund, but the employee is responsible for managing it after that.
The Medicaid bill capped Medicaid spending to the growth rate of the state budget.
Those two pieces of legislation earned Liljenquist the title of "national state legislator of the year" from Governing Magazine.
He noted in the op-ed piece that he learned from "the best leaders in the Utah Legislature" that succeeding legislatively meant respecting the views of those who disagree and making sure that respect was duly recognized.
"I tried to emulate these leaders during my service in the Utah Senate, and any legislative success I achieved while there I credit to this collegial approach," he wrote.
Lee’s sycophants like Glenn Beck and FreedomWorks are working up the tea-party base to do just the opposite. Within minutes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s admotion that tactics of Lee and fellow obstructionist Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was bad strategy, he was attacked on Beck’s show and by FreedomWorks, which changed its hashtag to "Defund the GOP."
Staunch and credible conservatives like McConnell, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake are sure going to want to back Lee’s legislation in the future after the venomous attacks on them from the Utah demagogue’s base, now, aren’t they?
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.