Utahns should re-elect Orrin Hatch to the U.S. Senate. He is in line to become chairman of the Finance Committee if the GOP wins control of the body, where he would be in an ideal position to advance the interests of Utah. If, by contrast, Utahns were to elect Scott Howell, Hatch's Democratic opponent, the Beehive State would add a second junior senator to its delegation with no seniority and no clout. It would be a repeat of the Bob Bennett debacle.
Howell is a capable candidate, an experienced state legislator with 10 years of service in the Utah Senate to his credit. He spent eight of those years as minority leader. A former IBM executive, he knows technology and the critical role it can play in improving the U.S. economy and education. But as a freshman senator, he would have virtually no influence on national affairs.
If Hatch were to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he would be in a position to affect the major issues that are at the core of the current election: tax cuts and tax code simplification, the deficit, the future of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), spending reductions and entitlement reform. Of course, if Mitt Romney were to win the presidency, Hatch's already substantial influence would be magnified even more.
The knock on Hatch is that he has been in office too long 36 years and is too old. But at 78 he is a vigorous man, and his long tenure should be viewed as an asset, not a liability.
Hatch always has been a staunch conservative, yet his views appear to have swung even further to the right in this most recent campaign. Some of that has to do with the tea party's influence on the Republican Party, a political reality that any GOP candidate would ignore only at his peril.
But keep in mind the senator's record. In addition to being an early, frequent and vocal champion of longtime conservative goals such as a balanced-budget amendment, a strong national defense and states' rights, he worked with Democrats, particularly the late Ted Kennedy, to enact the Children's Health Insurance Program. He proposed the DREAM Act, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens brought to the United States as children. Though he has a strong anti-abortion voting record, he parted company with his party to support embryonic stem cell research.
In short, he knows the art of bipartisan compromise. Others talk about crossing the aisle. He has done it in the past.
Orrin Hatch is one of the lions of the U.S. Senate. If Utah wants a powerful voice to shape the nation's future, it is imperative that voters keep him in office.