Freshman Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, has become a maverick during his first four months in Congress - or as he says, "an independent thinker."
He shows in vote after vote that he is not compelled to follow the Democratic Party - or any other group. He is also not afraid to cross other Utah members.He loves to say he is not really a politician - and is even the only House member who has never yet had a fund-raiser (using his own money to finance most of his last campaign). And he doesn't worry about following politically hazardous paths.
"That's because I'm an independent thinker. I look at the facts before I make a decision. If you're so tied to an ideology that you make a decision before you look at the facts, that's politics at its worst," Orton told the Deseret News.
That has led to many surprising stands and made Orton nearly impossible to predict because he doesn't follow his party or anyone else. Some actions include:
- Voting to allow the Persian Gulf war, even though most House Democrats did not. Orton agonized for weeks about it, discussing it with congressional leaders, the Pentagon, Cabinet members and even President Bush himself before deciding.- Being among a handful of Democratic mavericks who voted against the budget pushed by their leaders. Orton complained it would increase the deficit by more than $360 billion, and he wants spending cut.
- Being among only a few House Banking Committee members - and House members in general - willing to vote for more money to clean up failing savings and loans to prevent escalating losses. Most fear voting for anything that might connect them to the S&L crisis.
- Insisting on and obtaining changes to benefit Utah and Wasatch counties in a bill needed to complete the Central Utah Project - risking upsetting a fine balance other Utah members developed over many years on that bill.
- Refusing to back either Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, or Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, on their different proposals for Utah wilderness. Orton says both proposals are premature. He is planning meetings statewide to gather facts on the issue.
Orton acknowledges that people look at such actions and "say, `he's not a typical Democrat.' I think I am a typical Utah Democrat. I may not be a Chicago or a Boston Democrat."
He adds, "I haven't been really concerned how a vote is going to look because I've done my homework. I've looked at the issue. I've analyzed both sides of the argument. I've tried to look at the future and the impact. And then I make a decision what to do. Then I'm not concerned politically how that plays out."
He said the only two gauges he uses on how to vote and act are deciding what he feels comfortable with, and how voters in his district would act if they were in his place.
"The sign out front in the office is true. This office belongs to the people of the 3rd District of Utah. And so do I. I don't owe anybody any political favors. All I owe is the political responsibility to the voters in Utah."
He believes Utahns in his district would have it no other way.
"I don't think people want just another politician. They don't want somebody who's going to lick their finger and hold it in the political wind to try to make a decision. Even if they disagree with you, if you have gone through the work . . . they appreciate it."
Not only is Orton's style apparently playing well in his district, it has helped him in Washington too.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante Fascell, D-Fla., wrote Orton that his long, serious search on how to vote on the Persian Gulf war was why Orton won a seat on that committee.
Banking committee leaders also told him they admired his politically dangerous S&L work so they appointed him a member of a task force evaluating the S&L-overseer Resolution Trust Corporation.
"Leadership has to evaluate who I am, how much work I'm going to put in, whether I'm going to ascertain the facts first or jump first," Orton said. "It hasn't hurt me. It has helped."
So he enjoys continuing to say he still is not a politician. Even his office decor shows he may be right. Most members adorn walls with pictures of themselves with important people, or with awards from special-interest groups for favorable votes. Orton's walls are bare. Even their built-in bookcases are empty.
The first fund-raiser he will finally have in his political career next month will not feature the usual fancy hors d'oeuvres and posh surroundings. He plans "just some barbecue and chips" at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters, where he will discuss his philosophy.
And being a maverick for four months in Congress has not dimmed Orton's belief that he can change it for the better.
"The only reason I came back here was to try to accomplish something, to try to make a difference. I believe then and still believe after four months in this office that one person can make a difference. A lot of people are pessimistic about that. But it's true."