Susan Howe: Who is more like Orrin Hatch? Mike Lee or Becky Edwards?

Utah’s Sen. Hatch set an example for effective government that Becky Edwards can follow.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Senate candidate Becky Edwards in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

At the funeral of Sen. Orrin Hatch, we were reminded of what an effective senator he had been, passing over 1,300 bills, more than any other senator in U.S. history. Before this year’s primary election, then, it seems useful to compare Hatch with Mike Lee and Becky Edwards, both Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.

Former Oregon Sen. Gordon H. Smith explained what made Hatch such an effective legislator. According to Smith, Hatch began his career by learning how the Senate worked so that he could participate effectively. He grew to understand that legislating required “hard, painstaking work” and the building of trust. He never held a grudge or considered senators of the other party to be enemies. Rather, he “sought to accommodate perspectives different from his own” and worked to find the “commonsense center that is necessary to the making of law, not just noise, in the United States Senate.”

How does Sen. Mike Lee, the incumbent in this year’s race, compare to Hatch? Lee entered the Senate as part of the Tea Party movement, with the express purpose of disrupting the legislative process by refusing to cooperate not only with the other party but with his own party leaders. Consequently, in 12 years he has passed only four bills, two of which were to rename buildings.

Lee has absolutely refused to compromise in passing legislation for America. He was the only senator to vote against the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act, the Opioid Crisis Response Act and America’s Water Infrastructure Act. He also voted not to pass the Violence Against Women Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Furthermore, he led the “suicide caucus,” which shut down the federal government for 16 days, achieving essentially nothing but costing the American people $24 billion.

Recently released emails between Lee and Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, prove that Lee has always been part of the Trump machine. Trump regularly insults and belittles even his own colleagues, not to mention Democratic lawmakers. The resultant hostility has led to complete dysfunction in Congress, which is failing to do the work the American people need it to do — that is, compromise to pass laws that will provide solutions for the serious problems facing the country.

During the same period in which Lee was obstructing the work of the U.S. Senate, Becky Edwards was hard at work in the Utah House of Representatives, implementing solutions to Utah problems. In the mold of Hatch, she built a coalition among both Republicans and Democrats to pass HCR007, the first legislation in a red state acknowledging climate change. This resolution then led to a state-funded initiative to create the “Utah Roadmap” for clean air and climate solutions, as well as the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact.

Edwards was equally effective in working for more affordable housing, less expensive health care, safe and affordable childcare, and economic development in Utah.

Which of these two Republican Lawmakers — Lee or Edwards — is more like Hatch? Which will be the better senator for the state of Utah in the next six years? As the old saying goes, we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. We know what we will get if we reelect Mike Lee — the same obstructionist efforts we’ve seen in the past 12 years. To the contrary, Becky Edwards has shown, through her record, that she will identify problems, form coalitions with other colleagues, and achieve solutions.

It is time to change directions by electing Becky Edwards to the U.S. Senate. She is much more like Senator Hatch, who, as Oregon Sen. Smith said, “served as a model for what politics must again become if our system is to function well and our democracy is to prosper.”

Susan Howe is the associate editor of BYU Studies and one of the editors responsible for the current issue, The Restored Gospel and Good Government. This article does not represent the views of BYU Studies; its ideas are entirely those of the author.