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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Six-term Congressman Chris Cannon waves to residents along the Bluffdale parade route on Friday evening.

WASHINGTON — Why would anyone want to reapply for a job where there is constant scrutiny and controversy over every word spoken — or misspoken — every nickel raised or spent, every decision made and no guarantee it will still be yours in two years?

For Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, who is running for his seventh term in the U.S. House, it is because he wants to extend the 12 years of legislation he's passed, relationships he's built and influence he's developed in order to help Utah, and the country overall. Being able to play a part in guiding the country's future is enough to make him want to come back for more.

"The fact is it costs me a lot of money to be in this job," Cannon said. "There are all kinds of other jobs that are really, really interesting, but what is happening here is important and it is more important than the money I am not making and the other things I am not doing."

Cannon, a father of eight who lives in Mapleton with his wife Claudia, wore a few hats before coming to Washington, including writing coal mine regulations under President Ronald Reagan and reopening Geneva Steel in 1987 with his brother Joe Cannon, who is now the editor of the Deseret News. In 1990, Cannon purchased Geneva's new venture division, now called Cannon Industries Inc.

Utah's 3rd Congressional District voters elected Cannon to the House in 1996, where he has served since, despite almost biannual challenges from within his own party. Those challenges from fellow Republicans continue this year, when he almost lost his seat at the state GOP convention to Jason Chaffetz, a political consultant and former chief of staff to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Despite barely escaping the convention, going into Tuesday's GOP primary, Cannon is hoping his experience in the House and consistent record will allow him to continue to serve in Congress.

"I am running for re-election because there is a huge value in my relationships and my experience and my institutional understanding to do things that I think are very important to the world," Cannon said. "The ability to drive policy is far greater than even I had imagined and, therefore, the responsibility I feel is far greater than I had ever imagined it would be."

Cannon said he came to Washington with a set of principles and has voted consistently with those principles. He is a "consistent conservative," and while he will not go in his district and "blow my own horn" on every bill passed or other accomplishment, he said he has passed plenty of legislation, even without his name attached to it.

"I don't think I can see a vote that is inconsistent with those principles," Cannon said. "There have been some tough votes that I have made that you have to balance things on, but I am very comfortable voting any vote that I have ever made."

When Cannon got to Congress, he said he realized that the only things that mattered were "your integrity and your relationships.

"So I worked very, very hard to develop relationships of trust," Cannon said. "This is a complicated place with lots of interests. I think I do fairly well in maintaining relationships."

Cannon credits that trust as the reason he has been able to work with Democrats on legislation — something vital to getting things done in the House, especially with the Democrats in the majority. While he may not agree with some of his colleagues on all things, he says he knows how to home in on their common interests to get things done.

"Today it is a lot easier for me to get a bill passed," Cannon said.

Cannon is hoping he can count on those relationships to get bills finished this session of Congress, including one designed to speed up the development of oil shale, a Utah natural resource with anticipated big potential in domestic oil production. He also has a great interest in making technology available to all, be it high-speed Internet access to impoverished countries to help grow their economies or keeping tabs on the controversial patent reform bill that would affect every industry from software manufacturers to drug companies.

Still, his voting record — particularly missed votes — is an element his challenger Chaffetz likes to point to as a reason Cannon should be replaced.

In a KUED debate earlier this month, Chaffetz pointed out that Cannon missed a vote on Dec. 15, 2005, on an "important" immigration matter, but the lawmaker had voted on the bill just before and the bill just after.

The vote in question was on an amendment to a bill offered by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. that involved building fences and other physical infrastructures to keep out illegal immigrants. The amendment passed 260 to 159, with 14 members, including Cannon, absent from the vote.

Cannon said he remembers missing the vote, and while he said "it was one of the ones I didn't want to miss" he could not remember specifically why he missed it. He emphasized, however, that this was one vote among numerous immigration votes where he has cast according to his conservative beliefs.

Cannon said when members get to the House floor, especially during a series of votes, a lot of business goes on in addition to actually casting the votes.

"It is really easy when you have a series of votes to get to talking and forget to vote," Cannon said. "When I am on the floor, I am always there with a list of several things to do, talking about co-sponsoring or what is your bill about, I have missions that I do on the floor."

He said he has never missed a vote that has been close or a difficult one. Even "at the worst times in my life," he stayed in touch with leadership to stay on top of the vote schedule and determine when he needed to be there to vote.

He said it is "ridiculous" to say that by missing that vote, he is soft on immigration or for Chaffetz to suggest missing votes means he is not doing his job.

"He doesn't know what he doesn't know," Cannon said of his opponent. "I actually know what I am talking about. I know what the path is. I know the complicated environment that we have to deal with to get to a solution, and he gets to talk in sound bites which are inherently self-contradictory."

Not only does Chaffetz use his own sound bites but he refers to some of Cannon's controversial statements from the past.

During the 2006 congressional page sex scandal where Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., sent graphic e-mails and instant message to the teens, Cannon called the pages "precocious," which means uncharacteristically mature or exhibiting mature qualities. That set off a flurry of criticism against Cannon. Cannon said that some of it stems from the fact people think the word means promiscuous, but it doesn't.

Cannon also took heat for saying that the shooter in the 2007 Trolley Square shooting shouted "Allah Akbar," or "God is great," something he had heard John Gibson of Fox News say earlier. Although police later said shooter Sulejman Talovic didn't say such a thing, Cannon still says he knows what he heard on the tape.

But regardless of missed votes or missteps in speech, Cannon still wants to return to the House to ensure that he can continue to serve the district and keep a conservative point of view on legislation.

"I think the challenges we face today are important and I have the tools to help meet those challenges," Cannon said. "I play a little role in one of the significant institutions in America. And I think I play in that role a significant part in making the right choices."


E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com