Ask advocacy groups across the political spectrum to describe Utah's members of Congress, and all agree that they are solid conservatives - but maybe not super conservatives.

In fact, some right-wing groups grade Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both R-Utah, as only "D-plus" conservatives - rating them below most of their fellow Senate Republicans despite the Utahns' reputations as national conservative leaders.Even liberal groups agree - giving Hatch, Bennett and other Utah members somewhat better-than-expected liberal grades in annual report cards that they issue on voting records.

"They are not always with us on social conservative issues," David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), says about Hatch and Bennett.

So his group - the nation's oldest conservative lobbying organization - gave both senators a rating of only 68 out of 100 on what it felt were key votes in 1997. That is essentially a grade of D-plus as conservatives.

Only 12 of the Senate's 55 Republicans had lower ratings as conservatives from the ACU.

Showing that the ACU's opinion is not unique was the rating issued by the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. It gave Hatch and Bennett liberal ratings of 33 out of 100. The inverse of that - or 67 out of 100 - shows how conservative that group feels the senators are. That almost exactly matches the ACU.

Giving similar ratings were the liberal-leaning AFL-CIO labor union (giving both senators ratings of 33); the liberal-leaning National Education Association (giving Hatch a 38 and Bennett a 31); and the liberalleaning National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (giving Hatch a 40 and Bennett a 30).

One group that gives Hatch and Bennett even worse conservative ratings is the ultra-right John Birch Society - which gives Hatch a 58 and Bennett a 55, or grades of "F." It also fails all of Utah's House members, except Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, who barely passed its report card with a rating of 60 out of 100.

Keene said the less-than-perfect conservative ratings for Hatch and Bennett come because even though they often vote with conservatives on economic and regulatory matters, they often oppose them on some key social issues.

"For example, they both supported the NEA (the National Endowment for the Arts)," Keene said.

Most conservatives wanted funding for that agency cut because of its grants for what they consider obscene art. Bennett and Hatch, however, have said its grants are key to continue funding for the Utah Symphony and smaller local arts groups.

Hatch also caused heartburn for some conservatives by his continuing support of the nomination, now stalled, of openly homosexual James Hormel as ambassador to Luxem-bourg.

Keene has also attacked Hatch, for example, for working with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to raise tobacco taxes to provide health care for uninsured children - which conservatives complained leads to more liberal big-government spending.

"He was convinced that deals he made on health care prevented it from being worse. My response is that if he had said that in 1979 when Democrats were in the majority, it would be irrefutable. But we (Republicans) are in the majority now - so that's not a strong argument," Keene said.

"Some of these people (like Hatch) who have been around a long time, when they get into it with a Kennedy, they think he has a stronger hand than he really does," Keene complained.

Keene also said ratings for Bennett and Hatch are a bit low "because they are strong party people, and usually vote to support their leaders. But the new leaders (like Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott) are not as conservative now as those in the past. That has a ripple effect throughout."

Still, Keene says he personally likes both Hatch and Bennett and still considers them strong conservatives - even though others are stronger.

"On regulatory and economic matters, Bennett is as good a senator as there is," he said. "Hatch on judiciary questions - as chairman of the Judiciary Committee - is as strong as anyone. . . . But he occasionally lets friendship and being part of the (Senate) club color his decisions."

While such ratings suggest Utah's members may now not be as conservative as voters thought, most of those members say they have not changed - but say some rating methods and circumstances have.

Hatch said, "I've always been a moderate conservative. In the early years, I was in the minority and had to fight difficult battles on such issues as labor law - and looked more right-wing than maybe I was. I've always looked at all sides and do what is right."

He says he is "a solid conservative," but complained some right-wing groups "think that if you like child care or if you work with the president on some judges or if you vote for a chemical weapons treaty, then you're not con-ser-va-tive."

Bennett's press secretary, Mary Jane Collipriest, said he is - and is viewed as - a strong Republican, and says he puts little stock in ratings by advocacy groups that may jury-rig their ratings for their own political purposes.

"Whether it's the groups that rank a member at 100 percent or those that rank them at 0 percent, they use a hand-picked group of votes, which lead to a pre-determined outcome. It's hard to give them much weight in terms of original analysis," she said.

Hansen said some conservative groups also now give Republicans lower scores, not realizing the differing roles they must now play because they are in the majority.

"When we were in the minority, I didn't like the things that the majority stacked onto the appropriations bills - so I rarely voted for them, which pleased conservative groups that didn't like the spending.

"But now that we're in the majority, we have to try to run the country - and I vote for the appropriations bills. Some of the groups don't like that," he said. Hansen, however, still probably has the strongest conservative ratings in the Utah delegation.

Marianne Funk, press secretary for Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, said he "considers himself a moderate Republican, and for the most part these ratings reflect that."

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, also said his generally solid conservative ratings by advocacy groups reflect his politics but said, "I think it's important to work with and talk to everybody, not just conservatives. I have a lot of very liberal and Democratic friends, and I work with them."

He added that the only way to get perfect conservative scores "is to be like (Rep.) Ron Paul (R-Texas), who votes against everything. He's my friend too. But to move the country where we want to go, you can't do that."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

How advocacy groups rate Utah's members of Congress

Group: Hatch Bennett Hansen Cook Cannon

LIBERAL GROUPS

Americans for Democratic Action 15 10 0 5 10

American Civil Liberties Union 33 33 0 0 20

CONSERVATIVE GROUPS

American Conservative Union 68 68 91 88 96

John Birch Society 58 55 60 55 53

PRO-ENVIRONMENT

League of Conservation Voters 0 0 19 38 13

PRO-DEVELOPMENT

League of Private Property Voters 100 100 100 92 100

LABOR

AFL-CIO 33 33 0 0 20

United Auto Workers 0 0 0 7 8

National Education Association 38 31 36 50 43

BUSINESS

Business Industry PAC 95 100 98 93 98

U.S. Chamber of Commerce 100 100 90 80 90

TAX WATCHDOG

National Taxpayers Union 70 69 54 50 63

SENIOR CITIZENS

National Council of Senior Citizens 10 10 40 40 40

The 60-Plus Association 80 80 90 90 100

OTHER SOCIAL ISSUES

National Abortion Rights Action League 0 0 3 3 0

Zero Population Growth 0 0 11 11 0

Bread for the World (anti-poverty) 0 0 0 25 25

Council for a liveable world 17 0 13 13 13

(anti-nuclear)

NAACP (civil rights) 40 30 8 17 8

Christian Coalition 100 100 89 89 78