ALPINE — Utah will lose perhaps its most visible member of Congress when Rep. Jason Chaffetz leaves office before his fifth term ends to pursue a job in the private sector.
The conservative Republican announced Thursday that he would resign effective June 30, saying it's time for him and his wife, Julie, to move on from that part of their lives.
Chaffetz said he had a "little bit of a midlife crisis" in March when he turned 50. He has undergone some big changes the past 18 months, and the reality of spending more than 1,500 nights away from his family over eight years "hit me harder than it had before."
He said he couldn't face the prospect of another 200 to 300 nights away through the rest of his term after deciding he would not seek re-election in 2018.
"I just didn't want to do it. I just flat-out want to be with my family and go in a different direction," he said at a news conference in the living room of his Alpine home with his wife next to him and his Cavalier spaniel Ruby on his lap.
Chaffetz announced a month ago that not only will he not run in 2018, but he might leave office early for a private sector job the Deseret News has reported is believed to be at Fox News.
The congressman said he has started talking to "certain organizations" about a job but declined to name them. He said he felt "no compulsion" to talk about life after Congress but would address that when he gets closer to the finish line.
Chaffetz said he did not receive a job offer before deciding step down. He said he made the decision to resign, then began looking for work.
Gov. Gary Herbert received Chaffetz's resignation letter Thursday, allowing him to call a special election to fill the 3rd District seat. Several Republicans and Democrats have already signaled their intention to run.
Chaffetz steps aside during a tumultuous time in the White House as President Donald Trump finds himself in a political maelstrom. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz has been right in the thick of it.
The top investigative body in the House recently requested James Comey's memos and invited the fired FBI director to testify next week before its panel. Trump allegedly asked Comey to back off an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's ties to Russia.
Chaffetz insists the turmoil wasn't a factor in his decision.
"The overwhelming driving force is the idea that I love my family, and a lot of people will never, ever believe that," said the father of two married children and a third headed to college this year.
As oversight committee chairman, Chaffetz launched high-profile investigations into Benghazi, the IRS, the Secret Service and Hillary Clinton's emails. He said he regrets not being able to finish some of those probes.
Chaffetz readily went on television news shows to opine on some of the most controversial issues of the day, something his fellow House members from Utah are less inclined to do.
"I think this means Utah has lost a very visible member of Congress for better or worse," said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, adding some criticized Chaffetz for being too quick to go before cameras.
It will be interesting to see if Republican Reps. Rob Bishop, Mia Love and Chris Stewart play a prominent public role in the future, he said.
"That has not been their approach to this point," Karpowitz said.
It's uncertain what role the oversight committee and Congress will play now that the Department of Justice has appointed a special prosecutor to look into the Trump-Russia connections. Karpowitz said he doesn't think that will be cleared up before Chaffetz leaves.
Chaffetz said although he loves being in the driver's seat as chairman, he's not the only one who can do the job. He said he'll miss the rambunctious debates in Congress, but it's time to let someone else carry the baton.
Chaffetz called his nine years in the House a "rare honor and privilege."
"When I first ran for Congress in 2008, I promised I would get in, serve and get out. I told voters I did not believe Congress should be a lifetime career. I knew from day one that my service there would not last forever," he wrote in a letter to constituents posted on his congressional website.
"I’ve slept on a cot in my office largely to save money for the Chaffetz family, but also to remind myself that my service there was temporary," he wrote. "We feel my time in Congress has been well-spent, but it now seems the right time to turn the page."
Julie Chaffetz said she never wanted her husband to get too comfortable in the office, so sleeping on his cot was "brilliant."
"The republic will survive without me. I promise," Chaffetz said.
Some Utah Republican leaders are openly fuming over Chaffetz's apparent decision to leave office early.
"We're completely frustrated that we are having to deal with this," Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Wednesday. "If it's just to go on to a different job — a more lucrative job — that will be very offensive to me" as well as to other lawmakers.
Herbert acknowledged that a private sector job would not be as well-received as Chaffetz leaving for a post in the Trump administration. Still, the governor called Chaffetz a "great" congressman and said he would miss him, especially as a champion of internet sales tax.
Chaffetz's impending departure has created a sharp divide between GOP legislative leaders and Herbert, also a Republican, over how to fill his vacant U.S. House seat.
Both House and Senate Republicans voted unanimously in caucus meetings Wednesday to tell the governor to call a special session of the Legislature so they could pass a law putting a special election process in place.
Herbert has dug in his heels and is calling for a special congressional election that would mirror Utah's current general election process. Chaffetz said he supports the governor's position.
At least three Democrats — Kathryn Allen, Ben Frank and Carl Ingwell — have filed with the Federal Election Commission to run in the 3rd District, as has Republican Damian Kidd. State Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, plans to announce her bid Friday, and state Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, launched her candidacy Thursday on a new Twitter page. Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, is also running. Other possible GOP candidates include Provo Mayor John Curtis and Evan McMullin, who ran for president as an independent.
"Let the games begin," Chaffetz said, adding he would not endorse a candidate until the party has a nominee.
Chaffetz easily won all five of his elections. He has been a congressman, candidate, campaign manager or chief of staff over his past 13 years in politics.
In his constituent letter, Chaffetz wrote that he enjoyed serving, but never "for a moment" thought he was indispensable.
"I know others can and should serve. The House is known as the 'People’s House' because it is made up of a cross section of ordinary Americans who represent almost every walk of life — as it should be," he wrote.
"While remaining true to my principles, I have made the effort to reach across the aisle. I count many Democratic members as my friends. I hope whoever replaces me will do even better."
Utah Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Mia Love and GOP Chairman James Evans, praised Chaffetz as a strong defender of the Constitution and voice for conservative values.
Evans said no one could argue that Chaffetz has not been a champion of truth and shone light on injustice and wrongdoing in government.
"His work will leave a lasting impression in the halls of Congress, and his impact will never be forgotten," he said.