Time is running out for Sen. Orrin Hatch.
As he closes in on his his fourth decade in office, Utah’s senior Senator should be focusing on his legacy. But, that doesn’t seem to be happening.
If, as expected, Republicans end up taking control of the Senate this year, Hatch will become President pro tem. That means he will preside over the Senate when the vice president is absent and becomes third in line for the presidency.
All of that is neat, but it’s hardly something that will be remembered a decade after he leaves office. Without consulting Wikipedia, can you name the current President pro tempore? (It’s Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy).
Everyone calls him “Mr. President” and he gets a huge office and a driver - but it’s all so temporary. It’s a position that is won by longevity instead of merit, traditionally given to the most senior member of the majority party.
Hatch wouldn’t even be the first Utahn to hold that post, as he would stand behind Democratic Senator William H. King who was President pro tem for a brief time from 1940 to 1941.
Right now, the most memorable thing Hatch has done was his ill-fated run for president in 2000.
After the 2014 election, Hatch will be in a very powerful position in Washington as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. As he promised during his 2012 run, that puts him in prime position to get things done.
But what is he focusing on right now?
Criticizing Obamacare? Sure, that’s an issue that plays well at home, but there are so many people who do it better than him. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Mitch McConnell. Hatch cannot possibly hope to lead out on this. He’s just part of the chorus.
Talking about how Obama is destroying jobs? That plays well on Fox News, but isn’t much of a legacy-builder.
The reality of the situation is Hatch is going to outlast Obama by two years. Maybe he can turn his sights on a potential President Hillary Clinton. That might be fun...for a while.
Seriously - the Utah media is paying very little attention to Hatch right now.
Hatch’s popularity is flagging in Utah. A poll just before the 2014 Legislative session had Hatch with a 51% positive approval rating and a 45% disapproval. That, right there, says he needs to do some serious PR work at home. Some Republicans I talk to are cringing at what might happen to Hatch when he shows up to speak at the State Convention later this month. It would be nothing but embarrassing for a man with over three-decades of experience in Washington to get booed by members of his own party as he takes the stage. That’s a real possibility.
Hatch needs to bring his considerable experience and gravitas to bear on one or two issues that are important to Utah during his remaining years in the Senate. If anyone could find a way to get these things done, it’s Hatch. Even if he doesn’t, he would walk out the door in 2018 with his legacy in much better shape than it is now.
Hatch will never be Ted Kennedy, who was known as the “Lion” of the Senate. But, if he starts to focus on what he will leave behind, he has a chance to become the beloved political figure he yearns to be.
I think about what is left to commemorate former Rep. Jim Hansen’s tenure in Washington. After the years and years on the Hill, the only memorials we have are a stretch of Highway 89 and a federal building named after him.
Hatch needs to walk out of the Senate in 2018 leaving Utahns wishing he didn’t have to go instead of thankful he’s gone.