Public frustration high as Congress members return to home states
Washington • The Chaffetz 2012 tour continues Monday, with the two-term congressman holding four town hall gatherings in four Utah cities all of them outside his current district.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, says he's holding the events at the request of local groups, but acknowledges that he's doing so with an eye toward next year's election. He may run against Sen. Orrin Hatch in a contentious statewide race sure to get plenty of national attention. Or he could run for another term in the House, in one of the four new U.S. House districts being drawn through the ongoing redistricting process.
"You never know what the new districts might look like or what office I might run for," Chaffetz said. "It is going to be one of the wildest campaign years we have ever seen."
Chaffetz will start his week at Castle Dale's Museum of the San Rafael at 11 a.m. before going to Cedar City, American Fork and Ogden in subsequent days. He ends the week at a Park City fundraiser where Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., will share the spotlight.
These are not Chaffetz's first forays out of his district. He held town halls in Vernal and St. George earlier in the year, as he continues to flirt with a run against Hatch.
Town halls are a staple of August, when Congress takes its normal summer break to reconnect with the people back home. During the health care debate in 2009, the town halls were loaded with angry residents and helped spur the creation of tea party Republicans.
And this time, the August break also coincides with historic public frustration following a drawn-out drama over raising the nation's debt ceiling. A new New York Times/CBS News poll shows that only 14 percent of Americans approve of the work of Congress, an all-time low for the poll, which began in 1977.
All of the state's GOP lawmakers, including Chaffetz, opposed the final debt compromise, while Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, supported the deal. Chaffetz said he is not worried about any uproar during his public meetings.
"It is always good to hear what they are thinking, what is on their minds," he said. "It keeps me fresh and provides me a better perspective."
The congressman isn't the only one who will stand before the people and answer questions.
Hatch is holding a forum on dietary supplement regulations at Utah Valley University on Aug. 17 and then a broader town hall meeting at the Beaver Fairgrounds Building the next day. As usual, he will hold his economic conference and seniors conference as well.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has scheduled four town halls at the end of the month, starting with one at the Fairview City Hall on Aug. 30. He holds events in Beaver, Cedar City and St. George in the following days.
Matheson, who has forgone traditional town halls in recent years, will take questions from the audience at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics on Aug. 30.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has not yet scheduled any town hall meetings.
Chaffetz town hall meetings
Monday • Castle Dale, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Museum of the San Rafael, 96 North 100 East
Tuesday • Cedar City, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Southern Utah University Education Building, Room 104
Wednesday • American Fork, 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Holiday Inn Express, 712 S. Utah Valley Drive
Thursday • Ogden, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Weber County Library Pleasant Valley Branch, 5568 S. Adams Ave.