Few things are more rare than for someone to voluntarily relinquish power. But it happened Tuesday with an overdue announcement by Sen. Orrin Hatch.
For the past 42 years, Hatch has served the people of Utah in the U.S. Senate. In that time, he amassed the kind of power that comes only through seniority, ranking as the longest-serving Republican senator in history. But he also amassed the kind of power that comes from effective lawmaking, chairing three powerful committees during his long tenure, including his current position as head of the Senate Finance Committee, which he used to help pass a major tax overhaul bill.
As president pro tem of the Senate, he is third in line to the presidency. He has become a trusted friend and loyal vote for President Donald Trump, manifest most recently when he influenced the president to visit Utah and announce major changes to two national monuments in the state. That positioning has brought both praise and condemnation, but there is no denying the influence he is having on the Republican — and Trump — agenda.
And now he is walking away.
In Washington, that sort of power is coveted. In Utah, a Western state with a small population, having that sort of representation is rare and valuable.
We wish he had announced sooner, giving possible candidates a greater chance to raise money and seek the seat, a boon to voters trying to make the best choice for the future. But by announcing Tuesday he will retire when his current term ends, Hatch demonstrated the kind of graciousness that has eluded some notable other senators in the nation’s history who jealously held onto power well beyond their effective years.
Few things in politics have been more certain through the years than Hatch’s re-election campaigns. Yet, as he said in his video speech Tuesday, “every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves.”
Not every fighter hangs them up when that realization hits, however. Hatch is to be commended for a difficult decision that clearly puts the nation above personal ambitions.
As he noted in his speech, Hatch’s rise from a childhood molded by the poverty of the Great Depression is a quintessential American story. In what will be 42 years of service at the end of his final term, he has passed more than 750 of his own bills. He also has, at times, defied expectations, reaching across the aisle in unlikely ways.
Early in his career, Hatch forged a friendship with the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was a poster boy, of sorts, for the liberal agenda. That friendship led to the passage of landmark legislation, most notably the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
In an op-ed published by Politico.com when Kennedy died, Hatch remembered this about the Massachusetts senator: “He never lost sight of the big picture and was willing to compromise on certain provisions in order to move forward on issues he believed important.”
Hatch, too, has been a big-picture person, although the political climate for compromise in the Senate has dwindled significantly in recent years. He will be remembered for his role in passing laws too numerous to mention — a legacy that truly has shaped life in modern America.
He was a consistent champion for religious freedom. He co-sponsored the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and was a vocal advocate for preserving that vital pillar of American liberty. He was a strong advocate for the state of Utah and had the power to often turn that advocacy into real results.
We have not agreed with everything Hatch did in 42 years, but it would be foolish to ignore the impact he has had on the state and the nation. Similarly, it would be foolish not to say thank you, senator, for your honorable service.