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Utah’s delegation could land prime power spots

By Thomas Burr

First Published Apr 06 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Apr 23 2014 04:34 pm

Washington »

Sen. Orrin Hatch could be a few heartbeats from the presidency and gain that Finance Committee chairmanship he touted in his last election. Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop could be leading key committees, and Rep. Chris Stewart may continue to hold sway as a member of the Appropriations Committee.

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Next year could yield a fruitful power bonanza for Utah as its elected leaders climb the ladder in Washington. It’s a sweet spot for the delegation’s members, as compared to any time in the state’s history, and they’re hopeful it will help them guide policy and ensure they — and the Republican side of the aisle — get what they want.

After serving 37 years in the Senate, Hatch, who says he’s in his last term, is the most senior Republican and if the GOP takes back control of the chamber — something political handicappers now say is better than a 50-50 shot — he’d become the Senate president pro tempore, third in line for the presidency after the vice president and House speaker. It’s mostly a ceremonial position, but one that comes with a small staff and a security detail.

"I hadn’t thought about that lately," Hatch joked to me off the Senate floor last week. "I’m going to be a good senator no matter what happens."

If the Senate flips, though, Hatch would also land that Finance chairmanship that he’s sought and campaigned on winning with his 2012 re-election. While committees don’t often work the way they once did — the big congressional deals often bypass the front-end work — it does allow Hatch to choose the scope and focus of the committee that has broad authority over the tax code, entitlement programs, tariffs and trade agreements.

As I previously reported, Chaffetz is working to become Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, with that post’s unilateral subpoena power and headline-grabbing bully pulpit. Bishop is in line to head the Natural Resources Committee, with a broad portfolio over public lands issues.

Stewart, who as a freshman was lucky to find himself on the House Appropriations Committee, has a nice place to influence government spending — or try to cut it — if he’s re-elected. Without congressional earmarks, it’s not as bacon-laden a spot as it once was but it’s still a formidable position in Congress.

Nationally, two other Utah leaders could find themselves in powerful spots soon: Gov. Gary Herbert is a possible choice to be vice chairman of the National Governors Association and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is the first vice president of the League of Cities, meaning he’s in line to take the top spot in November.

Add to that the possibility that Utahns could elect former Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love to Congress, making her the first black Republican woman in Congress and an instant superstar in GOP circles. Sen. Mike Lee, who is buddy-buddy with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, already enjoys somewhat of a luminary status with tea-party groups and conservatives.

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The one thing the delegation may not have next year is a Democrat.

For the first time in 14 years, Democrat Rep. Jim Matheson, who has decided against running for the House again, won’t be the delegation’s go-to liaison with the other side of the aisle. Utah’s Republicans will lose the built-in advantage of bipartisan support for Utah-specific issues.

We’ll see how the congressional races shake out later this year but Utah’s elected officials could land some prime spots going forward.

The forecast » Three of Utah’s House seats — those owned now by Bishop, Chaffetz and Stewart — are rated solid Republican for the 2014 race by the Cook Political Report, while Matheson’s 4th Congressional District is tagged as likely Republican, even if the GOP hasn’t yet picked a candidate. All four districts, of course, tilt Republican. While there’s a lot of time before the general election, the prognostication shows a solid red Utah come January. The state hasn’t had an all-GOP delegation since 1999.

Utah’s two senators aren’t up for election this year.

Change up » Hatch’s longtime Finance Committee spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier has left the Hill to join the lobbying shop Forbes-Tate as a senior vice president. Finance spokeswoman Julia Lawless is stepping into Ferrier’s spot while Hatch’s personal office flack, Matt Harakal, has been promoted to communications director.

Hatch has also hired Rob Porter, formerly general counsel to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as new deputy chief of staff.

Morning email » Snack on Political Cornflakes, The Tribune’s morning dish of political news. Join our mailing list by emailing cornflakes@sltrib.com or follow us on Twitter, @SLTribPolitics. Check back at politicalcornflakes.com for regular updates.

Burr reports from Washington, D.C. for The Tribune. He can be reached at tburr@sltrib.com or via Twitter@thomaswburr.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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