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The two lives of Orrin Hatch

Senator's past drives him to make his future count

Published: Sunday, July 6 2003 12:34 a.m. MDT

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said he'll continue to run for office "as long as I think I'm doing well. I can do so much for our state and for our country."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Orrin Hatch might look like a stuffed shirt, with his ramrod straight posture and the sober bearing of a former Mormon bishop, which he is, but there are many sides to the man. If you don't believe it, just ask him.

"I have a soft side, and I have a tough side," he explains.

There's this soft side, which is the source of hundreds of poems and songs, many of which have been recorded. He has penned songs about love, patriotism, God. He has written songs for his wife, Elaine, and for his famous friends. There's this soft side that buys art and listens to classical music and spends hours poring over books.

There is this tough side, which is why he once punched out a BYU football player in his college days and called President Bill Clinton a jerk and took up Clarence Thomas' defense with the tenacity of a cornered bulldog.

The tough side is also where he grew up, as in on the wrong side of the tracks in Pittsburgh in a ramshackle house that used a billboard for one wall.

In the middle of a long, rambling discussion of his life, Hatch pauses to note, "I'm complex."

Which would explain the five books — soon to be six — that have been written trying to explain this one-man phenomenon, including one by the senator himself. He is a bundle of pent-up energy, a workaholic who begins and ends his day in the dark. He gets up at 5 a.m., arrives at work at 6 and routinely returns home anywhere from 8 to 10 p.m., and he's been doing it for 27 years.

"I believe there is no one who can outwork Orrin Hatch," says Heather Barney, Hatch's longtime assistant. "He is tireless. He is driven. He never stops. He exhausts those around him. He overwhelms you. I do not know how he gets so many things accomplished in one day."

This is one way: He doesn't sleep. He's a world-class insomniac who survives on five to six hours of sleep each night, which is luxurious compared to the four to five hours he used to get by with before his 69 years caught up with him.

"I'm always keyed up," he says of his fitful nights. "My mind is racing all the time. I get so caught up in what's going on."

In the wee hours, he writes poems, songs and letters, reads, makes notes for the next day's agenda. He alternately sleeps and works. He even works while he sleeps, sitting upright in bed to jot down something he has thought of.

He rarely does one thing at once. He works over lunch in the office. He listens to books on CD while driving — current choice: "The History of Economics." He reads memoranda and mail while exercising on the stationary bike or stair stepper each morning. He reads while walking to and from the gym.

"I don't waste a second," he says. "When I go, people will have to say, 'He made every second count.' "

There are times when he literally runs between meetings. No one can remember the last time he took a real vacation.

The bottom line is this: "He's got to be one of the most effective U.S. senators, because he works his butt off," says Dee Benson, Hatch's former chief of staff, now chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Utah. "He's in the middle of a lot of stuff. He loses some, but it's not for lack of trying. If you had to pick one Republican to blast something through, he's the only guy you want to sponsor it and get it done."

Perhaps no legislator during the last quarter century has been in the middle of more legislation than Hatch. (See box.)

All that drive and tenacity draw from a well of complex history — growing up poor and wanting to prove himself and win acceptance; a deep, sincere belief that he was destined to lead and to do good in the world, and that he has a knack for both; and there's one thing more.

There's Jesse.

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