Lee wants to eliminate the Department of Education and doesn't believe the federal government should pay for schools. He says he would vote to continue paying for transportation projects that are already under way, but would look at future projects on a case-by-case basis.
"Every federal program can be said to do good things and I don't doubt that they do some good things," Lee said. "But the question is what's the role of the federal government? I believe a lot of our problems economically have to do with the fact that the federal government is involved in a lot of things it has no business being involved in."
Going to Washington will be a homecoming of sorts for Lee. The son of Rex Lee, a former BYU president, Lee spent most of his youth in Washington, where he regularly watched his father argue cases before the Supreme Court as solicitor general. He lived on the same street as long-time senators like Robert Byrd and attended worship services with Senator Harry Reid, who served as the family's LDS home teacher and was a close friend of his father. At 16, Lee worked as a senate page under Orrin Hatch, a man Lee shares several similarities with. Both were untested candidates when they ran, both are lawyers, and both defeated three-term senators.
The question is whether Lee will follow Hatch's example as a pragmatic senator who has shown a willingness to reach across the aisle (and get re-elected year after year) or whether he will cut his own path with tea party upstarts seeking to change Washington.
"We've seen no indication of Mike backing away from the tea party," Jowers said. "I think he'll stay true to those principles. But at the end of the day he should determine what is best for the state of Utah and how that aligns with his and his constituents' principles. His ultimate success will depend on his ability to balance groups like the tea party's needs and agenda with the needs of his Utah constituents."
On Tuesday, if only for a brief moment, the concerns for the future were put on hold as Lee celebrated with his family, staff and other Republican candidates in downtown Salt Lake.
"I got into this race because I believe that the federal government is too big and too expensive, and it is," Lee said during his acceptance speech. "I intend to govern as your senator with that very same philosophy. I will be committed to fighting every single day I'm there to reduce the size and scope and cost of our federal government."
He thanked his staff, which initially worked without pay, and promised to stick to his principles, even if it meant not winning re-election.
"This is a nostalgic moment thinking that the campaign is coming to a close, it kind of makes me sad because it's been so much fun," he said. "But just as it's something that's coming to an end, it's also just sort of the end of the beginning. This is the point at which we get to leave behind criticizing the government and talking about what we don't want and where we commence a more rigorous active discussion about what we do want.
"I feel an enormous sense of responsibility. I don't want to let voters down."
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