Utah’s Elder Statesman and Republican Icon: Orrin Hatch

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019


After forty-two years representing Utah in the U.S. Senate, Senator Orrin Hatch is now the longest serving Republican Senator in U.S. history, finishing his seventh and final term this past December. Last week, he was succeeded by none other than 2012 GOP presidential nominee and Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney.

But before his ascent to the position of President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, Hatch endured a tough childhood. In the darkest days of the Great Depression, his family moved from their suburban home into a makeshift shack, cobbled together with nothing but leftover lumber and debris. Hatch continued to struggle financially into adulthood and pushed through college and law school while also working as a janitor and metal worker by night. Above all his individual pursuits, Hatch was first and foremost a family man, and worked tirelessly to give his wife and kids the best life possible. Running for the U.S. Senate was an afterthought for Senator Hatch, though he would tell you it was a part of “God’s plan” all along.

Deciding to run on a near whim, Hatch defeated an eighteen-year Democratic incumbent when all the political know-how indicated his opponent was favored to win. Senator Hatch’s strong work ethic remained in the years following his first upset victory in 1977. His staff would describe him as a textbook workaholic, as it was not uncommon for Senator Hatch to work on legislation deep into the night. Hatch entered the Senate as a conservative stalwart, but later transformed himself into a political opportunist. During his tenure, he balanced his appetite for conservative reform with a strong bipartisan record, successfully sponsoring and cosponsoring more bills cumulatively than any Senator in the 2018 conference. Despite his role as a conservative-pragmatist, a number of key principles remained constant throughout his Senate career.

  1. A Desire for Fiscal Discipline

The last two years of complete Republican control have not exactly been years of glowing fiscal discipline, and the 116th Congress is not expected to please fiscal conservatives either. There is no denying that Republicans are guilty of contributing to our increasingly unbalanced, over bloated budgets. Hatch is certainly culpable too, having voted for some of these ill-conceived budget packages.

Even so, Senator Hatch still represents the old-guard of the GOP, a GOP defined by an honest concern for the deficit. Senator Hatch was one of the earliest proponents of a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. By 2011, he had sponsored the amendment for the seventeenth time.

2. A Commitment to Economic Freedom

As a freshman senator, Orrin Hatch voted consistently with the conservative-bloc of the GOP, including notable GOP Senators Barry Goldwater and Howard Baker. For Hatch, over-taxation was an affront to economic freedom, and this cemented tax reform as one of his signature policy pursuits.

In one of his first efforts to modify the tax-code, he cosponsored the Tax Reduction Act of 1979. The bill easily failed on a Finance Committee vote, being that the Senate was under Democratic-control during the Carter-era. Nonetheless, it was the first of his many attempts to cut taxes across the board.

Since then, Hatch played a pivotal role in passing both the 1986 and 2017 tax-overhauls. In 2017, he made key revisions to the bill eventually known as the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. As Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Hatch became one of the bills staunchest supporters. He famously sparred with Senator Sherrod Brown, who described the bill as a giveaway for the rich. Alluding to his working-class roots, Hatch rejected Brown’s claim: “I come from the lower middle class originally. We didn’t have anything, so don’t spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of crap.” Hatch’s defense was cheered by much GOP base, ingratiating him with groups that previously resented his position in the political establishment.

3. A Tendency to Buck the Base

Hatch understood the role of pragmatism in compromising politics, and this sometimes put him at odds with the ideological underpinnings of the modern Republican Party. Though he remained a steadfast supporter of many of the policies described earlier in this article, other aspects of Senator Hatch’s legislative record were more variable.

Hatch started his career as a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, and largely remained critical of it through the Trump-era. However, his approach to tackling the issue evolved through the years. By 2010, Hatch had joined Democrats and moderate Republicans in supporting comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.

Most recently, Senator Hatch made a name for himself by speaking out about the prevalence of suicide in the LGBT community. He called for greater support for young adults struggling to accept their sexual orientation or gender-identity. “No one should feel less because of their orientation … They deserve our unwavering love and support. They deserve our validation and the assurance that not only is there a place for them in this society but that it is far better off because of them.”

 

To many Utahns and conservatives, Hatch’s legacy will remain complicated. But after serving through eight presidencies, one thing is for certain. Few Senators have had a greater impact on American public policy via the U.S. Senate than Orrin Hatch.

Colin Yokanovich studies biochemistry and communication at Saint John's University in Minnesota. He is currently an executive board member of the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University College Republicans. He is also the producer of Hot Takes with Kassy & Brad.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Colin Yokanovich

Saint John's University in Minnesota

Colin Yokanovich studies biochemistry and communication at Saint John's University in Minnesota. He is currently an executive board member of the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University College Republicans. He is also the producer of Hot Takes with Kassy & Brad.

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