The GOP's Orrin Hatch Problem

Posted: Jan 14, 2012 12:01 AM

I’m not going to opine much on this column, but rather throw something out there for debate. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Even for those who don’t follow Utah politics, which would pretty much be anyone living outside of Utah, there was a piece of notable news out of the Beehive State that had nothing to with Hunstman.

State Senator Dan Liljenquist announced his intention to run against Orrin Hatch. It’s a gutsy move. Liljenquist is young both chronologically and politically. He was sworn in to the Utah Senate in 2009. By contrast, Hatch is well established, has seniority, knows how to work D.C, and has a sizeable war chest. Two Utah congressmen, Jason Chaffetz (R) and Jim Matheson (D) opted not to take him on.

I interviewed  Liljenquist for my Tuesday show. I found him to be likeable and earnest. Liljenquist played a big part in addressing some serious fiscal issues in Utah, such as turning the state’s pension into a system in which the state’s contribution to pensions tops out at ten percent; and in the process he eliminated pensions for legislators.

He also took on the state’s Medicaid program and made Utah the first state in the Union to cap Medicaid growth in the state budget. He bills himself as a fiscal and social conservative and is not shy in stating that its time for entitlement reform.  I found myself agreeing with his stands on fiscal reform, smaller government, and energy development. I admit that the discussion sounded like many I had during the summer of 2010 with Tea Party activists and assorted candidates.  

Liljenquist has the support of FreedomWorks, one of the groups that convinced Utahns to swap out Bob Bennett for Mike Lee in 2010. And FreedomWorks has a link to the refreshingly spartan website lists some of the Hatch’s votes going back to 1979. The site lists Hatch’s support of TARP, Medicare Part D, his 16 votes to raise the debt ceiling, and a host of other votes that conservatives despise on spec. I’ll let you be the judge.

Liljenquist believes he can beat Hatch. During our conversation, Liljenquist said that he was picking up steam and resonating with the younger conservative crowd. He also said that during a recent town hall meeting, Hatch apologized for his past voting record and asked for another term to set things right.

Which brings me to my question for you guys. Do we place our faith in people like Orrin Hatch who has seniority, experience and connections and will be in a position of power during his next term; and with guys like Romney who many feel relatively sure is the only one who can beat Obama?

Or with regard to caucuses and primaries, do we follow the advice of Jason Chaffetz who once succinctly said: “Sometimes, you just gotta flush the toilet.”?

The question of old vs. new is significant in the upcoming Liljenquist/Hatch contest. On one hand, Hatch is a veteran who is poised to wield some significant power in his next term. But what has he done with the power he has in the terms he has served? By contrast, Liljenquist has much less in the way of legislative experience and would be little more than the Freshman Senator from Utah. I asked him how he would overcome his junior status, and his lack of experience and coalitions to do the things he wants to do. He said “Numbers.” Put another way: with enough like-minded folks the ship of state could be turned around.

We had a mini revolution in 2010. But a Republican majority in the House hasn’t seemed to amount to much. Cut, Cap, Balance was a neat idea, but like a cat I once owned, it wandered away from the house and I never saw it again. And don’t get me started on the “spending cuts” last year, or the payroll tax cut debacle of last month. I only get 700 words for these columns.

So what do you guys think? Is it time for a change not only at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but within the GOP as well?