Six-term entrenched incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is attacking his conservative challenger, Dan Liljenquist, over his alleged support for tax hikes in Washington. My sides ache.
Liljenquist has never voted for federal tax hikes or massive entitlement spending or multibillion-dollar bailouts or serial debt-limit increases in Washington because he has never served in Washington. Never. Hatch, by contrast, has spent the last 36 years racking up a Big Government record that cannot be whitewashed away.
Outside the Beltway/Hatch fog machine, Liljenquist's integrity and commitment to reining in runaway spending are unassailable. In state legislative policy circles, he's known as the "Paul Ryan of Utah" -- after the courageous and wonky Wisconsin Republican congressman who's forcing kick-the-can politicians in both parties to reckon with welfare-state profligacy.
Liljenquist doesn't just preach fiscal discipline or embrace it during election years. He has led the way as a nationally honored budget and pension reformer in the Utah Senate. Unlike the 77-year-old Beltway barnacle Hatch, Liljenquist has spent his formative adult years excelling in the private sector as a global management consultant and business strategist. He also helmed a privately owned call center company that grew from two to 1,500 employees since its 1995 founding.
As a state legislator over the past four years, Liljenquist pioneered tough state pension and Medicaid reforms that serve as models for the rest of the states. His hard work earned him the nonpartisan Governing magazine "2011 Public Official of the Year" award.
Liljenquist is everything that Republican establishment types -- who savaged lesser-prepared Tea Party candidates in 2008 -- say they want the next generation of GOP leaders to be: smart, principled, articulate and unquestionably prepared for the office he seeks.
Keenly aware of both the urgency and complexity of entitlement reform, Liljenquist refuses to demagogue the issue. Desperate to hold on to power as he faces an unprecedented primary, Hatch has pounded Liljenquist with an out-of-context sound bite on a hypothetical federal entitlement reform deal that might possibly involve "revenue enhancements."
Based on a single media ambush against Liljenquist, Hatch and his ill-informed supporters are branding Liljenquist a tax-and-spender. This is Bizarro Land territory. And it is an abject sign of desperation that Hatch, one of the GOP's most profligate big spenders, is masquerading as a limited-government Tea Party godfather.