SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Utah Legislature declared Wednesday "Orrin G. Hatch Day" and honored the retiring U.S. senator from Utah with their own stories from his 42 years in office.
An emotional Hatch told the Senate in his last annual appearance there that he was "deeply humbled by today's resolution" and offered praise for the work of both Republicans and Democrats in the Utah Legislature over the years.
"Serving the people of Utah in the (U.S.) Senate has been the privilege of a lifetime," the senator said, repeatedly dabbing his face with a handkerchief. "We’ve come together to do what’s right for Utah and for the nation."
Hatch described himself as someone both willing to reach across the aisle for support and "one of those who was willing to stand up and fight" when needed.
"I have to say that this Utah spirit really has helped me a lot as I have served," he said.
Hatch did not address the House. The resolution honoring him, SCR13, passed the Senate 26-0 and then the House 73-0, and now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his action.
In the Senate, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the resolution's sponsor, said he was a college student when he first met Hatch, during his long-shot bid to unseat Utah's longtime U.S. Sen. Frank Moss.
"It was seeing that young attorney that had a dream, had a vision, taking on a three-term incumbent that inspired me later in life to run for the (Utah) Senate," said Bramble, who has served as a Utah senator for 18 years.
First elected in 2010, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he was born the month after Hatch won his first race in 1976. Because his parents campaigned for Hatch, he said, "I like to tell people my first campaign was Hatch '76."
Thatcher said when he married a year ago, he got a call from Hatch "giving me the business for not inviting him to the wedding." He said Hatch joined his family for pie a week later, then helped him with a suicide prevention issue in Congress.
"I'm not able to express how grateful I am," Thatcher said.
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, described how Hatch stepped in when the mayor of a small town in his district complained they were being overrun with prairie dogs, bringing federal officials to Utah to see the problem for themselves.
"You worry about the little people, those things that really cause a lot of havoc," Vickers said.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who has temporarily stepped down from his duties as Senate majority leader while he undergoes the process of being evaluated for potential heart and kidney transplants, said Hatch called him Sunday.
Hatch had heard of his health issues and wanted to "make sure I knew he was thinking of me," Okerlund said. "I think that really shows the greatness of this man, not just as a public servant, but as a human being."
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, sponsored the resolution in the House.
Hatch is "as kind a person you’ll ever meet, but as tough a person you’ll ever meet," the speaker said from the House floor. "He never pulls any punches. He’s been an incredible mentor."
Hughes also thanked Hatch for protecting religious liberties in Congress.8 comments on this story
"I think that's part of what makes him special," he said. "He has had that mighty hand in making sure those issues are advanced."
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, recognized Hatch for working with Democrats in Congress, including the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and praised his constituent services.
"I think it goes to the heart of what a good public servant is, actually," King said. "For over 40 years, you have worked hard to make sure that the people of Utah were heard and that you did what you could to help them in any way you could."