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Tribune Editorial: Why Orrin Hatch is Utahn of the Year

(AndrŽ Chung | special to The Salt Lake Tribune) Senator Orrin Hatch is the senior senator from Utah, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and President pro tempore of the United States Senate.

These things are often misunderstood. So, lest our readers, or the honoree himself, get the wrong impression, let us repeat the idea behind The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utahn of the Year designation.

The criteria are not set in stone. But this year, as many times in the past, The Tribune has assigned the label to the Utahn who, over the past 12 months, has done the most. Has made the most news. Has had the biggest impact. For good or for ill.

The selection of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch as the 2017 Utahn of the Year has little to do with the fact that, after 42 years, he is the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, that he has been a senator from Utah longer than three-fifths of the state’s population has been alive.

It has everything to do with recognizing:

  • Hatch’s part in the dramatic dismantling of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

  • His role as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in passing a major overhaul of the nation’s tax code.

  • His utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power.

Each of these actions stands to impact the lives of every Utahn, now and for years to come. Whether those Utahns approve or disapprove of those actions has little consequence in this specific recognition. Only the breadth and depth of their significance matters.

As has been argued in this space before, the presidential decision to cut the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half and to slash the size of the brand new Bears Ears National Monument by some 90 percent has no constitutional, legal or environmental logic.

To all appearances — appearances promoted by Hatch — this anti-environmental, anti-Native American and, yes, anti-business decommissioning of national monuments was basically a political favor the White House did for Hatch. A favor done in return for Hatch’s support of the president generally and of his tax reform plan in particular.

And, on the subject of tax reform: For a very long time indeed, Hatch has said that his desire to stick around long enough to have a say in what indeed would be a long-overdue overhaul of the nation’s Byzantine tax code is the primary reason he has run for re-election time after time.

Last week, he did it.

The tax bill that passed the House and the Senate and was signed into law by the president Friday is being praised for bringing corporate tax rates in line with the nation’s post-industrial competitors and otherwise benefiting corporations and investors in a way that backers see as a boost to the economy, even as opponents vilify it for favoring the rich and adding to the federal budget deficit.

No matter who turns out to be right about that argument, the fact remains that tax reform has been talked about and talked about for decades and only now has anything been done. And Hatch, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has his fingerprints all over it.

But perhaps the most significant move of Hatch’s career is the one that should, if there is any justice, end it.

The last time the senator was up for re-election, in 2012, he promised that it would be his last campaign. That was enough for many likely successors, of both parties, to stand down, to let the elder statesman have his victory tour and to prepare to run for an open seat in 2018.

Clearly, it was a lie. Over the years, Hatch stared down a generation or two of highly qualified political leaders who were fully qualified to take his place, Hatch is now moving to run for another term — it would be his eighth — in the Senate. Once again, Hatch has moved to freeze the field to make it nigh unto impossible for any number of would-be senators to so much as mount a credible challenge. That’s not only not fair to all of those who were passed over. It is basically a theft from the Utah electorate.

It would be good for Utah if Hatch, having finally caught the Great White Whale of tax reform, were to call it a career. If he doesn’t, the voters should end it for him.

Common is the repetition of the catchphrase that Hatch successfully used to push aside three-term Sen. Frank Moss in this first election in, egad, 1976.

What do you call a senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home.”

Less well known is a bit of advice Hatch gave to Capitol Hill interns in 1983.

“You should not fall in love with D.C.” he admonished them. “Elected politicians shouldn’t stay here too long.”

If only he had listened to his own advice.


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