Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a poster boy — in a negative way — for a national group that says Congress needs term limits. That is one reason U.S. Term Limits opened an office in Utah on Monday.
“We have senators such as Senator Hatch, who has been in office for 40 years and is [considering] seeking an additional six-year term,” said Justin Anderson, Utah director for the bipartisan national group.
“For many members of Congress who are in there for 30 years-plus, they become part of the establishment and they become self-interested. That provides a block for real progress,” he said.
The national website for U.S. Term Limits attacks 83-year-old Hatch, for example, by noting that when he first sought office against then-incumbent Sen. Frank E. Moss, D-Utah, Hatch taunted, “What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home.”
The website adds, “Today, having spent over 40 years in power, Hatch only wants more ... and calls Washington home.”
Hatch’s team says the group is misreading Utah.
“The Constitution already provides term limits: they‘re called elections,” said Hatch’s spokesman Matt Whitlock. ”And the people of Utah have consistently shown that they support the Constitution as written. Utah’s voters can make their own decisions regarding who represents them in Congress, and they do so without the patronization of out-of-state interest groups who think they know better.”
U.S. Term Limits argues that capping terms in office would help produce citizen legislators instead of career politicians.
“Imposing term limits will ensure that issues that matter to constituents are being echoed in Congress,” Anderson said.
“It’s the same principle we have for the president of the United States,” an office with a limit of two terms to limit power, he said. Congress has no such limits, and it “has over a 90 percent reelection rate, with less than 20 percent approval.”
Anderson said the group will use its new Utah office — so new that it doesn’t yet quite have official office space yet — to lobby the Legislature to call for a constitutional convention to seek a term limits amendment, and will conduct educational campaigns and events in communities and universities around the state.
State Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, this year sponsored HJR12 to call for a constitutional convention to seek congressional term limits. It passed 45-27 in the Utah House, but was killed in a Senate committee on a 2-4 vote.
“So part of our efforts will be to educate the state on this matter, and to address some of the concerns that the Legislature may have had,” Anderson said. “This is something that has received bipartisan support on the state as well as the federal level.”
He said the group will also be distributing literature and information statewide, and conducting phone banks on the issue.
“This isn’t strictly a conservative issue or a liberal issue. It’s a bipartisan issue,” said Anderson, who has roots on different sides of the political spectrum.
Anderson, an Ohio native who has lived in Utah for four years, is currently the vice chairman of the Utah County Democratic Party, but has worked previously for Americans for Prosperity — a political advocacy group founded by wealthy conservative activists David and Charles Koch.
“I’ve been fairly involved with the grassroots movement in Utah,” he said, “both the left and the right.”