It’s tempting to describe the last week in politics as one of the most interesting and strange ever. But that wouldn’t do justice to the last 140 weeks — which were equally as interesting and strange. It seems to be the new normal.
Sen. Orrin Hatch is right in the middle of the hot tax reform debate in Congress and he just announced a number of new staff additions — making it appear he plans to stay forever in the Senate. On the other hand, a new PAC formed by some prominent Utahns is encouraging Mitt Romney to run for Hatch’s seat. What’s the latest on Hatch’s decision to retire or seek re-election?
Pignanelli: “Now I have seniority! Maybe I'll get a bigger trash can.” — U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner
Hatch evokes images of an aging superhero, tapping into his reserves of energy to hold back the forces of nature and politics. So, I am still maintaining my membership in the club of political hacks who believe Hatch runs again. Most GOP heavyweights have declared their support of him. President Donald Trump and Senate Leadership want him back. So why not?
The draft Romney SuperPac provides a new dynamic. Orem state Sen. Dan Hemmert, the movement’s leader, is a rising star in Utah politics. A successful businessman and strong presence on Capitol Hill, insiders take him seriously. He and other influential lawmakers are collecting petition signatures to encourage Romney to run “should Senator Hatch choose to retire.” Their deference to Hatch was strategic. These Romney supporters acknowledge the advantages of Hatch’s prized seniority, and proclaimed the best substitute for it is a national figure like Romney. This is an open recognition of Hatch’s prowess. Further, if Hatch runs again, the inevitable Romney endorsement will have greater value.
I have put my money where my mouth is, with wagers from me riding on the senator’s candidacy in 2018.
Webb: I love Orrin Hatch. He is arguably the most effective U.S. senator in U.S. history. His legacy is assured. But this is getting rather ridiculous. The 2018 election is less than a year away and we have no candidate. If Hatch is going to run, he should announce now. If he’s going to retire, he should announce now. It won’t make one iota of difference to his effectiveness in the Senate. Consider that Congressman Rob Bishop has already announced his 2018 election will be his last. Bishop is not a lame duck.
In fact, Hatch will have more power than ever, because everyone will know he’s not playing politics, not worrying about re-election.
It’s kind of embarrassing for Romney to be left twisting in the wind, waiting for a nod from Hatch. Other Republicans are becoming resentful that Hatch is essentially picking his successor, trying to prevent any other candidate from having the time to mount a campaign and raise money. It’s hardball politics.
Depending on whether Hatch or Romney ultimately runs, what’s the impact on other potential candidates?
Pignanelli: Even before the former Massachusetts governor announced anything, the "Draft Romney" team cleared the field. Their well-publicized effort finalized that Romney is the presumptive GOP nominee and any other candidate is just a nuisance.
Hatch is a well-funded and ferocious campaigner who will run hard against any interparty challenger attempting a catch-up.
But if neither Hatch nor Romney announce, I predict 50 candidates will file for the office. PR firms and campaign operatives will be rejoicing.
Webb: If Hatch runs, he could suffer a tragic end to an amazing political career, despite claims of infallibility by his campaign operatives. Various scenarios could provide an opening for a Steve Bannon-supported right-wing candidate, or a last-minute chaotic free-for-all if neither Hatch nor Romney runs.
The controversy over Alabama Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore is dominating headlines. Is there potential spillover onto Utah politics and how should Utah's congressional delegation handle the issue?
Pignanelli: National Republicans certainly learned lessons from controversies earlier this century (e.g. a congressman texting solicitations to interns, a Senate candidate discussing “legitimate rape,” etc.). They quickly and appropriately distanced themselves from Moore. The complication comes if the former judge is elected to the Senate. Then Utah officials will have to seriously consider joining an effort to banish him from the Senate or possibly face uncomfortable questions and protests.
Webb: The Moore scandal has no happy ending for Republicans. Moore should drop out, but he won’t. It’s going to be a disaster. Congress faces another mess with the revelation that some 15 million taxpayer dollars have been paid out to settle sexual harassment allegations, with some members of Congress apparently involved. Those names should be revealed. Let’s find out who the creeps are.
The lesson for all politicians (and everyone else) is simple: treat women (and everyone) with respect. Never, ever, sexually harass anyone. The days of “boys will be boys,” locker-room talk, even teasing and flirting, are over. Perhaps it’s time to take the next step: get rid of the misogyny in rap music and the sexual objectivization of women in movies, TV shows, magazines, fashion, pornography, etc.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: email@example.com.