Utah politicians reflect on Sen. Orrin Hatch’s life, legacy after his death at 88

Utah’s longest-serving senator died in Salt Lake City Saturday night surrounded by family.

(Ron Edmonds | AP file photo) Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, right, talks with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber of the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah’s longest-serving senator, has died at 88, his office announced Saturday.

The former president pro tempore of the Senate served in Congress for 42 years until his retirement in January 2019. Hatch was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and graduated from Brigham Young University before he entered the Senate race from Utah in 1976.

Scott Howell knew Hatch in a way many did not — as an opponent when he ran against the longtime lawmaker as the Democratic nominee in 2000 and 2012. But he had nothing but respect for the politician across the aisle.

“Far too often people think that we’re in brutal physical combat when we run against each other in politics,” Howell said Saturday night. “For Orrin and I, while we disagreed on a lot of things, we did work together on some very key legislation... In a world where politics are so demeaning right now, and it’s us against them, I will say that Orrin and I always tried to keep above the fray. "

One of Howell’s most memorable moments with Hatch was when they were on the same flight shortly before the 2012 election. The senator was sitting in front of Howell with his wife, Elaine, and when Hatch went to the restroom, the two struck up a conversation.

“She said, ‘You know, Scott, you got one vote,’ and I said, ‘Really?’” Howell recalled. “She said, ‘Yeah, I’m just really tired of Washington, D.C., I’d like to be back with my family.’”

When Sen. Hatch returned, Howell broke the news to him.

“I said, ‘I got a vote,’ and he said, ‘Oh, well, good,’ and I said, ‘It’s right here from your wife!’” Howell said, chuckling. “And he looked at her and she looked at him, and he kind of just walked off. I’m sure Elaine was just joking with me, but it was nice.”

“I respected him,” Howell said, “and I believed that he respected me, and we just carried on.”

The LDS Church’s governing First Presidency saluted Hatch in a news release, noting he “served with distinction.”

His “tireless efforts on behalf of his country have benefited countless lives and his strength in promoting religious freedom will be a blessing to all people of faith for generations to come,” the church leaders added. “His service in callings he accepted in the church reflected his commitment to serve his fellowman.”

Utah politicians echoed the former senator’s warmth and commended his accomplishments.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Hatch was one of the few examples of greater devotion of public service and that his legacy will live on in the impacts he had on Utahns.

“This breaks my heart,” Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted. “Abby and I are so grateful for the opportunities we had to spend time with this incredible public servant. He was always so kind and generous with his time and wisdom. Utah mourns with the Hatch family.”

Utah Rep. John Curtis and former Rep. Mia Love both said they had fond memories of working with the senator, and that he provided a wealth of knowledge during his career.

“I have known Orrin Hatch since 1967,” tweeted former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. “He was a great man and a great senator who represented Utah and America extremely well for 42 years. He was one of the great ones.”

From the other side of the aisle, former Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat, tweeted, “Orrin Hatch leaves a remarkable legacy in our state and county. When people talk about healing the divide in our country, they talk about Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy, how they disagreed, remained friends and found solutions. I am grateful for his public service.”

Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, tweeted, “Rest in peace, Senator Hatch. Thank you for your many years of service to the great state of Utah. I pray the Hatch family is comforted at this time.”

“Orrin Hatch was a close personal friend and mentor who I — and so many others — will miss dearly,” tweeted Rep. Chris Stewart. “His service to our state and country was unmatched, and for that we will be forever grateful. God bless you, Senator Hatch.”

“Orrin was a friend, a mentor, and an example to me and countless others,” tweeted Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. “I saw countless times how his brilliant mind, quick wit, and care for his nation, his state, and his colleagues turned pernicious problems into clear paths forward. His example of dedicated, principled statesmanship and consistent collegiality is missed but will never be forgotten.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes tweeted that Hatch was “a man who personified the American Dream,” saying he “exemplified the wisdom, legal acumen and comity required to ensure the best interest of all Americans was always a priority. He will be dearly missed.”