Seniority. In the U.S. Senate, it's the measurement that matters. With it you can move mountains. Without it, you and the state you represent are largely irrelevant. That is the first big reason why Utah voters should return Orrin Hatch to the U.S. Senate, and why Republicans should choose him as their nominee in the June 26 primary.
If the Republicans gain control of the Senate in November's election, Hatch could become the second most-powerful leader in the chamber. That power is of inestimable value to the Beehive State's interests.
But power is only valuable if you know how to use it constructively. The second reason to vote for Hatch is that he has a proven record not only as a principled conservative who ably reflects the values of his state, but also as a statesman who is willing to work with the opposing party when the good of the nation demands it. That important quality is getting short shrift in the current campaign, where ideological purity and doctrinaire positions are the marching orders of the day. But in a divided government, partisan purity has paralyzed the Congress. The unfortunate outcome is a gridlocked government that does not serve any American's interests well.
Most voters say they are tired of this state of affairs, and they are right. But to get things moving again, voters have got to send representatives to Washington who are willing and able to work with the other side to craft policy and hammer it out in legislation. That means cutting deals and not always getting everything you want. But it's the price of progress.
In his 36 years in the Senate, Hatch has been a conservative stalwart, so much so that he sometimes embarrassed Utahns back home with his stridency. But he also worked with the Democratic lion of the Senate, the late Ted Kennedy, to pass landmark legislation that brought health insurance to impoverished children. It's one of Hatch's great legacies as a legislator. And history has proved the program's worth. The Children's Health Insurance Program is now a bipartisan icon.
Tea party extremists take a dim view of that kind of legislative work, but they're wrong. Unfortunately, they have forced Hatch to run even harder to the right than he might have otherwise, which would have seemed inconceivable just a few years ago. But that's how the political landscape in the United States has changed.
The folks at FreedomWorks rip Hatch for voting for the Troubled Asset Relief Program at the height of the financial crisis. Americans of all political stripes had to hold their noses as the government bailed out the big banks. But it was the right thing to do. Remember what happened when Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail, and then imagine what could have occurred if all the investment banks had gone down. Remember, too, that TARP was the brainchild of a Republican treasury secretary with the support of President George W. Bush. And it worked. Much of the money has been paid back to the government.
Two years ago, the Republican state convention knocked out of office another experienced, respected senator with seniority. Utah instantly lost credibility and political clout in Washington.
This time, fortunately, the broader Republican electorate will have its say. It should not repeat the party's mistake with Bob Bennett. It should give Orrin Hatch a seventh, and final, term and with it the power to do right for the country and for Utah.