Can we ever get a break from politics? The last two years of Trump and Hillary should have been enough politics to last a lifetime. But, no, it never stops. Here we are in 2017, five months after a presidential election, already talking about Senate and House seats in 2018 as well as the governorship in 2020. It is what it is, I guess.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz just announced he won’t be running for reelection – a surprise to many people. We expect every incumbent to keep on running and, when they don’t, it seems surprising. We think, “what’s wrong?” Well, what’s wrong is that Chaffetz cannot afford to have a contentious congressional race in 2018 right before he looks to run for governor in 2020. While Utahns should be grateful for his decision, it was a decision made out of self-interest. I assure you that he didn’t sit back and say to himself, “You know, I should step down. It’ll be good for the country for another person to have their turn at this.”
Senator Orrin Hatch is no different. Of course, he will run for reelection despite his promise not to. If Hatch runs again and wins and fills out his eighth term, he will be 90 years old. He was first elected in 1976 at the age of 42.
While Hatch has hesitated in announcing his candidacy one more time, just because the optics are so bad, you can bet real money he’s in. During one brief, fanciful, moment a few weeks ago, Hatch flirted with the idea that he would gladly retire and pass his Senate baton to Mitt Romney, if Mitt was interested in the seat. Well, of course Hatch would be magnanimous to Mitt – Mitt wouldn’t run for the Senate. That was an easy disingenuous gesture for Hatch. Now he can say to himself, “Well then, since nobody wants the seat, I might as well run again!”
Back to Chaffetz. Not only is he not running for reelection, he could retire his congressional seat early – resign before the end of his current term. Again, you have to wonder why? He could have a very good personal reason for doing so. But don’t count on it. Chaffetz also wants to be the next governor of Utah in 2020. Our current governor, Gary Herbert, could run again but has signaled that is unlikely (and I think we actually can believe him). So an earlier than expected departure by Chaffetz is probably connected to that decision. Perhaps, too, there is some political reason for him to resign his seat early pertaining to those politics – perhaps he, too, has a replacement in mind?
And that thought brings me to my main point: In a day and age of political narcissism, aren’t Utahns just a little offended by the idea that an incumbent can simply crown his own replacement? Or the idea that anyone thinks an elected office is his or hers for the taking?
And, yes, I’m aware that every incumbent has a good idea of his replacement. That’s natural to have a favorite. But what is not natural – and certainly undemocratic – is king making. The best and most recent example is all of the talk about Hatch handing his Senate seat to Mitt Romney. I suppose Mitt could win a Senate seat in Utah but should we assume it without hearing from the people? And, of course, nothing is a sure thing, even candidate Mitt in Utah. That’s why we play the game.
Similar to that situation regards Mitt’s son, Josh Romney. It’s no secret that he is interested in becoming Utah’s next governor. In fact, his mom, Ann, recently promoted that idea on national television. There is a long tradition, especially in Republican politics, to wait your turn. You might not remember but in 1996 the Republican presidential candidate was Bob Dole (perhaps the worst candidate possible at the time). And yet, running for president was deemed “his turn.” Republicans had many other great candidates, including outsider Steve Forbes, but conventional wisdom held that it was Dole’s turn to run. He had paid his dues. Of course, there really is wisdom in that approach generally. That’s why we have political parties. But that wisdom disappears when the candidate isn’t the best one (think John McCain in 2008 or Hillary Clinton in 2016).
Is Josh Romney ready to be governor of Utah? If you say yes, by what standard is he measured? He has zero experience in elected office. If you think that is a virtuous trait, think Donald Trump. I know, he has to start somewhere. But does it make sense to have someone start at the top? Would his dad have made Josh CEO of Bain Capital without any experience? Probably not. What makes elected office any less important in terms of experience?
Would Chaffetz make a good governor? Who knows? I happen to think that our current Lt. Governor, Spencer Cox, is the best candidate for governor in 2020. Who would be better than Orrin Hatch in the Senate? The list might not be long but I can think of one solid candidate, Derek Miller, CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. At least all three of these gentlemen have government experience.
Politics always is interesting. But no candidate should be crowned the next in line. Running for high office should be tough, not a gift. And, while name ID helps any candidate, a name alone is no assurance of intelligence or wisdom.