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Bishop, Chaffetz hoping to lead committees in next Congress

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The current chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is retiring this year, opening up the spot. There are two other members ahead of Bishop in the pecking order: Reps. Louie Gohmert, of Texas, and Don Young of Alaska.

Young, a former chairman of the committee who is term-limited from seeking it again, is backing Bishop.

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"He understands the West better than most people," Young said in an interview. "He’s very articulate and this is the type of person who should lead that committee."

Gohmert is a friend, Young added, but Texas doesn’t have the kind of public lands that Utah or Alaska or other states have, and that’s crucial in taking on such an important role.

"The problem you have when you’re not from a state like that, you can’t really put a feeling on what should have happened, what could have happened and you’re susceptible to having your ear bent on both sides of the aisle without understanding the real issues," Young said.

Bishop currently heads a subcommittee over public lands and environmental regulation but the full chairmanship would give him broad jurisdiction over the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Utah congressman says it’s a prime position for a Western member.

"They own 70 percent of [Utah] and they control the other 30 [percent] through Fish and Wildlife and EPA, so, yeah, this becomes a significant issue for Utah and it’s really one of the reasons I want to come back," to Washington, Bishop says. "I can use this, I think effectively, to help Utah out."

While not endorsing Bishop, the head of the Congressional Western Caucus, Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., says the Utah Republican is an advocate for the issues that states in the region care about.

"Rob Bishop is a close friend, and as a member of the Natural Resources Committee has been good to the West in general and my home state of New Mexico," Pearce says. "He understands the challenges we face, which are often similar to those facing Utah."

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Bring ‘em on » Democrats have a slim chance to re-take the House this election, so Republicans are likely to hold on to the chairmanships they have now. If that’s the case, Democrats are at least hoping they can forge good relations with the new committee leaders.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who as the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee has had a contentious relationship with Issa, doesn’t want to weigh in on which Republican should head the panel, but he’s hoping that person will want to reach across the aisle.

"Whoever they put forth, we’ll do our best to try to work with for the American people," he said. "I hope they have the spirit of working together on the issues people want us to address."

That means, he says, going beyond the hot-button issues like Benghazi to looking at medicine shortages, mortgage-bank wrongdoing and credit-card hacking.

Should he take over, Chaffetz says one area that will receive renewed focus is public lands and energy issues, something that has crossover with the areas of responsibility of Bishop’s committee. If the pair were each leading their respective panels, Utah would be a big beneficiary, Chaffetz says.

"There are literally thousands of bills that are introduced each year but only a couple hundred make it to the finish line," Chaffetz says. "Chairmen play a very influential role in creating that success and influencing other pieces of legislation. It’s just the reality."


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